Clemency dates back to ancient times. For centuries everyone accepted that clemency was needed to correct unduly harsh outcomes dictated by law in individual cases. That changed in the United States in the second half of the 20th century, when clemency became associated with being soft on crime, the kiss of death for politicians lining up to pass harsher laws with longer and mandatory minimum sentences. Presidents began to exercise their pardon power almost exclusively at the end of their terms to avoid any political cost. The reluctance to grant clemency, the soaring number of applicants due to mass incarceration, and the redundant layers of bureaucratic review have created a backlog of some 18,000 applications as of April 2022.

Clemency must be restored as an accepted tool to ensure that justice is served. The FIX Clemency Act, which creates an independent commission that would review applications expeditiously and make recommendations to the president, would ensure fair and timely consideration for every applicant. The commissioners would come from diverse backgrounds, in contrast to the current system in which the Department of Justice has a monopoly on recommending clemency. This article uplifts the voices of people seeking clemency to foster understanding about the benefit of clemency not only to the recipient but to their families and communities.

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