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Annual Report of Trends in Clemency -2022

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The Redemption
Annual Report of Trends
in Clemency


The criminal legal landscape is, by design,
enormously complex and notoriously difficult
to change. While we have a number of tools
available to correct the failed policies of the
past, one in particular merits additional
analysis: clemency. Clemency is a key way for
us to fix the unjust outcomes that have become
a hallmark of the criminal legal system and
to reverse the harms of years of failed mass
incarceration policies. In 2022, we saw a
number of encouraging clemency decisions, yet
there remains a need for our elected officials
to do more with their clemency authorities to
reverse decades of injustice. The harmful policy
decisions of the past have created the mass
incarceration crisis. There are too many people
serving decadeslong sentences that would be
considered outrageous today.
This report evaluates the progress made in 2022
by executives and advocates to advance the

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use of clemency as a tool for good governance,
justice, and redemption. It also identifies the
ways in which governors and the president can
do even more to capitalize on the full powers
of clemency to correct injustice, offer second
chances, and heed the will of people to reverse
our reliance on over-incarceration.


We are a nation of second
chances—and that means
giving another chance
even to Oregonians who
have committed crimes
that are incredibly hard
to forgive.”
— Governor Kate Brown (OR),
April 26, 2022.

Success Stories

Throughout 2022, we saw significant
strides in the use of clemency as a
tool to correct failed policies and
offer second chances to people.
Elected officials stepped up to right
the wrongs of our flawed criminal
legal system, advocates spoke out
about their experiences, and thought
leaders worked together to drive
meaningful conversation about the
power of clemency.

State Clemency Actions
Every pardon or commutation represents a
second chance for an individual, for a family,
and for a community. Below are encouraging
findings we identified through available data.

• President Biden provided pardons to
thousands of Americans who were convicted
of federal marijuana possession offenses, and
commuted the sentences of 75 people.
• Gov. Brown pardoned more than 47,000
marijuana possession offenses, forgave
approximately $14 million in fines, and
commuted the death sentences of every
person on death row in Oregon.
• ACLU and the Princeton School of
Public and International Affairs hosted a
clemency forum examining clemency from
the perspective of a Governor, an Attorney
General, and a person who was granted










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68+32 84+16 72+28 82+18 80+20

A Majority of Voters in the United States Support Clemency
Here are key findings from a national Bully Pulpit Interactive poll.


Support clemency,
including majorities
of Democrats,
and Republicans.


Support the
release of those
incarcerated under
a statute that has
since changed.

“Superstars” of Clemency in 2022
Examples of notable pardons and commutations1

Gov. Kate Brown
Gov. Tom Wolf
Gov. Tony Evers
Gov. Mike Parsons
Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Oregon (47k+)
Pennsylvania (580)2
Wisconsin (437)
Missouri (215)
Arkansas (165)

Clemency has a long history of being a normal
part of what states and the federal government
can do to correct injustices and give people
second chances. George Washington exercised
his clemency authority in 1795 to pardon those
who participated in the Whiskey Rebellion.3


Support the
release of
those who
are elderly.


Of crime
victims support


Of law
families support

Drug-related pardons and commutations made
up the vast majority of clemency determinations
in 2022. Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon pardoned
more than 47,000 marijuana-related offenses,4 Gov.
Tom Wolf implemented a marijuana conviction
pardon program in Pennsylvania,5 and governors
commuted individual cases for drug-related
offenses. This included Michigan Gov. Gretchen
Whitmer, who commuted the sentence of Michael
Thompson, who had been in prison for 25 years for
selling 3 pounds of marijuana.6

Advancing Racial Justice
Clemency is a tool to reduce racial disparities in
our prison population. According to data from
Aliza Kaplan of Lewis and Clark College, two

1 These numbers are estimates derived from a multitude of sources including official press releases, numbers reported by the media, and
numbers reported in formal filings to state legislatures.
2 These numbers are based on information provided to the ACLU by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and Paroles, and includes expedited
pardons and pardons related to the Governor’s marijuana pardon project.
3 Colleen Shogan, “The History of the Pardon Power: Executive Unilateralism in the Constitution,” The White House Historical Association,
December 2, 2020,
4 KGW, “Governor Kate Brown Pardons About 45,000 People for Marijuana Offenses,” KGW Online, November 21, 2022, https://www.kgw.
5 A.J. Herrington, “Pennsylvania Governor Launches Program To Pardon Marijuana Convictions,” Forbes, September 2, 2022,
6 Michael Thompson, “I Spent 25 Years in Prison for Marijuana Charges. Biden’s Pardon Is Not Enough,” Time, December 1, 2022, https://

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thirds of the commutations granted by Gov.
Kate Brown in Oregon were to people of color.7

Year over Year
2022 saw fewer commutations than 2021 at
the state level, dropping from 214 known
commutations down to 114 in 2022. However,
pardons went from approximately 2,744 to
48,086 at the state level.

As encouraged as we are by the
accomplishments seen throughout the past year,
2022 was not without its challenges.

Expand Use of State-level Clemency
Only 20 of 40 states with reported clemency
data performed any pardons in 2022.
• As encouraged as we are by the use of
clemency activity across the country, there
were no reported pardons performed in
half of the states for which we have data.
Our research shows widespread support
for clemency, and elected officials in many
of these states have an opportunity to
use their executive power to correct the
injustices of the past.

opportunity to use the power of clemency
to commute sentences that are unjust or no
longer sensible. Thousands of individuals
are incarcerated with sentences that
are longer than would today be deemed
appropriate by today’s standards.
Both of the above findings could be the result
of political fears of performing pardons in
an election year. However, it is normal for
governors to exercise this power, and voters
support its use. In fact, 61% say they would
be more likely to vote for a gubernatorial
candidate who supports a plan for

Federal Clemency
While President Biden’s pardon of federal
marijuana possession charges was a significant
step forward, there are still deep disparities
in federal drug sentencing laws that can be
remedied by clemency. This includes providing
pardons and commutations for people harmed
by the long-standing crack and powder
cocaine sentencing disparity, which has
disproportionately targeted Black people.9
Additionally, clemency must be considered for
the 5,620 people who are, as of January 2023,
released from federal facilities on CARES Act
home confinement.10

Only 10 of 40 states with reported clemency data
performed any commutations in 2022
• As we recently saw in Arkansas,
Oregon, and other states, there is ample
7 Noelle Crombie, “Gov. Kate Brown Ends Term with Flurry of Commutations, Pardons; Calls Clemency a Chance ‘To Save Lives,’” The
Oregonian, January 14, 2023,
8 Danny Franklin and Jessica Reis, “Majority of Voters in the United States Support Clemency,” BPI Media, August 2020, https://www.
9 United States Sentencing Commission, “Quick Facts: Crack Cocaine Sentencing Offenses,” last accessed March 2023, https://www.
10 Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Potential Inmate Home Confinement in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Federal
Bureau of Prisons, last accessed March, 2023,

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What comes next?
For 2023, we are focused on driving progress
toward three goals:
1. Encourage governors to exercise their
executive power to pardon those who
have fallen through the cracks of recent
sentencing reforms. For example, in states
that have repealed mandatory minimum
sentences, legalized marijuana use,
overturned “three strike” laws, or banned
juvenile life without parole, governors
should use their clemency authorities to
ensure people that were sentenced under
these laws have a second chance.

from President Biden, such as the use of
his clemency authorities to reduce the
sentences of people impacted by the longstanding and racially biased crack and
powder cocaine disparity.11


 lemency is very serious.
It’s a powerful tool.”
– Governor Bill Lee (TN),
December 22, 2022

2. Remind officials that the use of widespread
clemency for entire groups of people who
meet certain criteria as well as routine
application-based clemency is good
governance and corrects for injustices in
our carceral system.
3. Increase administrative support for
implementing federal clemency programs,
encourage more leadership in clemency
11 Sophia Cai, “ Garland Orders End to Cocaine Sentencing Disparities,” Axios, December 16, 2022, https://www.axios.

About the Redemption Campaign
The Redemption Campaign launched in 2020, the ACLU’s first-of-its-kind nationwide effort
to release 50,000 people from state and federal prisons by executing state and federal level
campaigns that push the President and governors to use their existing clemency powers in new
and transformational ways. Through the campaign, the ACLU has worked with state and federal
stakeholders to confront mass incarceration and racial injustice by granting commutations to
large groups of people who are unjustifiably imprisoned.
Click here for more information on the Redemption Campaign.

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