Clemency Reform

In recent years, the Center has established itself as a leader in the fight for clemency reform.  In response to the Obama administration's clemency initiative, the Center, with generous funding from private donors and the Open Society Foundations, launched a pop-up legal services clinic to assist people incarcerated in federal prison with their clemency applications.  From 2014 to 2016, we filed roughly 200 petitions for clemency, and President Obama granted clemency relief and freedom to 96 of our clients, many of whom were serving life sentences for drug offenses.  In recognition of our efforts to pursue freedom on behalf of nonviolent drug offenders seeking clemency, our student fellows were awarded the inaugural “Making a Difference Award” by University President Andrew Hamilton.  This university-wide award recognized members of the NYU community who “have made a lasting impact for the better on the city, region, nation, or globe.”

State Clemency Reform

The Center has launched a project studying historical state clemency grants and the role that local prosecutors played in the grant process.  As part of the project, Center Fellow Ben Notterman '14 has undertaken a review of historical state clemency grants in a number of states, both to understand the types of crimes for which clemency used to be granted, as well as the role that prosecutors played in recommending or opposing specific grants and advising government decision-makers.  We anticipate publishing reports on individual state practices as we complete them.

The Demise of Clemency for Lifers in Pennsylvania

This report focuses on the demise of clemency for people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania.  Read it here.

Willie Horton's Shadow: Clemency in Massachusetts 

This report examines the history of clemency in Massachusetts, where just one sentence has been commuted since 1997. Read it here

Taking Stock of Clemency in the Empire State: A Century in Review

This report discusses the decline of sentence commutations in New York, where clemency was once the primary means of discretionary release. Read it here

Searching for Clemency in the Constitution State

Our latest report examines the history and sharp decline of commutations in Connecticut. Read it here

New York State Clemency Project

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s public call for clemency applications, a number of the Center’s law student Fellows are currently undertaking pro bono representation of people incarcerated in New York state prison to help them create and submit clemency petitions to the Governor.

Legal Scholarship

The Center's faculty director, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy Rachel Barkow, has been a tireless advocate for structural clemency reform efforts through her legal scholarship and her public advocacy.  Her legal scholarship highlights the importance of clemency to the proper functioning of our criminal justice system, including “Clemency and the Unitary Executive,” and “Restructuring Clemency: The Cost of Ignoring Clemency and a Plan for Renewal,” co-authored with Mark Osler, Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law  of University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Media and Reports

February 25, 2019 Letter to President Donald J. Trump Regarding Clemency Reform: The Center's Faculty Director, Rachel Barkow, has signed a public letter to President Trump urging him to make lasting changes to the federal clemency process by removing its administration from the Department of Justice.  Joining her as signatories are a diverse group of advocates who include a former federal judge, public policy organizations from across the political spectrum, legal academics, and formerly incarcerated persons, some of whom received clemency and are now reform advocates.

The Mercy Lottery: A Review of the Obama Administration’s Clemency Initiative:  In an effort to keep momentum going for federal clemency reform, and to impart the lessons learned from The Mercy Project and the CRC, the Center has written a report profiling worthy people who were not granted clemency by President Obama and analyzing his administration's clemency initiative.