The tailwinds might be behind criminal justice reform, but American mercy power remains locked in a sputtering clemency model. Centralized leadership should be braver or the centralized institutions should be streamlined, the arguments go—but what if the more basic mercy problem is centralization itself? In this essay, I explore that question. In so doing, I defend the normative premise that post-conviction mercy is justified, and I address the questions of institutional design and political economy that follow. I ultimately encourage jurisdictions to layer decentralized mercy powers on top of their clemency mechanisms, and for the newer authority to be vested in local prosecutors. I present less a single proposal than a collection of principles for mercy decentralization. Governors and presidents simply cannot deliver the punishment remissions appropriate for an American prison population bloated by a half-century love affair with over-criminalization, mandatory minimums, and recidivism enhancements.

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