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January 18, 2020

Great podcast on clemency after wars (in Vietnam and on drugs)

In last week's class we briefly discussed some of the federal clemency efforts for those who dodged the draft during the Vietnam war.  Excitingly, right after our class, the folks at Vox posted an on-point article/podcast under the headline, "A plan to reverse the war on drugs, from the Vietnam War era: What Democrats running for president have learned from President Ford on criminal justice."  I recommend finding 30 minutes to listed to the podcast at this link, and here is the text providing a preview:

In 1974, Gerald Ford became president after some of the most difficult years in our country’s history.

In addition to Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation, the Vietnam War had divided the country for more than a decade.  While millions of Americans served in Southeast Asia, many others protested the war at home — some of them by evading the draft.  Ford wanted to find a way to bring the country back together. Just a few weeks after he took office, he announced a plan “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

For the young men convicted of draft evasion — a felony — during the Vietnam War, Ford promised, “I’m throwing the weight of my presidency into the scales of justice on the side of leniency.”

Ford gave those young men an opportunity to apply to a Clemency Board, a small group appointed by the president who would decide whether to erase that felony from the men’s records.  Now, many of the Democratic candidates for president want to follow Ford’s model for a new group of people in federal prison: those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

In this episode, The Impact looks back on President Ford’s clemency plan through the lives of two men: one who fought in Vietnam and served on the Clemency Board, and one who evaded the draft.  We explore how the Board transformed their lives and what it might mean for a new generation of young people behind bars.

UPDATE: The Vox podcast includes discussion with LawProf Mark Osler, with whom I have had the honor to work with on various projects. Perhaps Mark and I get along well in part because he also likes to blog, and does so regularly here at Osler's Razor.  His latest post there, "Sunday Reflection: Into the high desert prison," discusses his "tour of sorts, going to prisons to talk about clemency in the federal system."

January 18, 2020 in Who decides | Permalink


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