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Clemency is a process of executive mercy, allowing people convicted of crimes to be pardoned – forgiving and eliminating a particular conviction – or to have their sentence commuted, allowing them to leave prison, have their sentence reduced, or be discharged from any remaining punishment entirely. Scholars, advocates, and impacted people increasingly recognize that the problem of “mass incarceration” continues in large part because of lengthy sentencing, particularly around offenses categorized as violent. In many jurisdictions, the only potential relief valve for these kinds of long sentences are forms of executive clemency. But in many places, clemency is increasingly unavailable, as chief executives are reluctant to reduce punishments because of political blowback.
Join us to hear from Professor Rachel Barkow about her scholarship on the importance of clemency to the proper functioning of our criminal legal 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. In her role as Faculty Director of the Peter L. Zimroth Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law, she has also overseen research on the decline in state clemency. We’ll discuss the current state of executive mercy, the history of clemency policies in the United States, and potential paths forward to increase clemency and community safety at the same time.
Rachel Barkow’s scholarship focuses on applying the lessons and theory of administrative and constitutional law to the administration of criminal justice. She has written more than 20 articles, is a co-author of one of the country’s leading criminal law casebooks, and is recognized as one of the country’s leading experts on criminal law and policy. Her book, Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration (Harvard/Belknap 2019), demonstrates the ways in which our current criminal justice policies undermine public safety and explains how we can get better outcomes by relying less on a flawed political process and instead making institutional changes that allow data and evidence to guide our choices while respecting important constitutional limits. She received the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award in 2013 and the Law School’s Podell Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007. In June 2013, the Senate confirmed her as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission. She has been a member of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel since 2010. In 2015, she co-founded a clemency resource center that obtained sentencing commutations for 96 people as part of President Obama’s clemency initiative. For her work on clemency with NYU students, she received the NYU Making A Difference Award, given to those who have made a profound and lasting impact for the better on the city, region, nation, or globe. After graduating from Northwestern University (BA ’93), Barkow attended Harvard Law School (’96), where she won the Sears Prize. She served as a law clerk to Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the DC Circuit and Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court. Barkow was an associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel in Washington, DC, before joining the NYU Law faculty.
Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of the Myths of Public Safety speaker series. Prior to joining PCJ, Katy spent four years as a legal fellow and then staff attorney at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, a research and policy institute at Harvard Law School.
The Myths of Public Safety: Parole speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.
Speakers and Presenters
Rachel Barkow, Charles Seligson Professor of Law, NYU School of Law | Katy Naples-Mitchell (moderator), Program Director, HKS Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management
Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, HKS