Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rep. Cecil Brown's op-ed on the pardons reveals PEER's findings; no pardon file on Karen Irby

The following is an op-ed written by Rep. Cecil Brown (D - Jackson):
The recent flap over Haley Barbour’s 200 pardons and commutations has highlighted problems in our current gubernatorial clemency processes. At my request, the staff of the legislative Performance and Expenditure Review Committee (PEER) reviewed the files of those who were pardoned. The files for five of those who were pardoned could not be located. The files for 10 of those pardoned contained no application for pardon. (Such an application is required by parole board rules.) Sixteen applicants were granted pardons in spite of negative recommendations by the Parole Board. Thirteen of those sixteen received a unanimous “no” vote by the Board. The sixteen whose applications received no votes by the Board had been convicted of crimes ranging from murder to the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. It is important to note the report was from PEER staff pursuant to a legislative request and is not part of an official PEER Committee report.

Because of the public interest in the Karen Irby matter, I also asked the staff to review her file. The Governor’s office, the Parole Board and the Department of Corrections all reported that they could not locate a file for Karen Irby. It seems to have disappeared. If such a file exists, the Parole Board should have a copy because much of the information in such a file would have been collected by the Parole Board in fulfillment of its statutory duty.

Governor Barbour has maintained that in granting pardons and commutations he relied on the Parole Board recommendations. In at least 16 cases that appears to not be true. Unfortunately, whatever recommendations the Parole Board has made are not reflected in their minutes, probably a violation of state law. In addition, the Board keeps no record of what files they have transmitted to the Governor for review. Therefore, it is almost impossible to track individual recommendations from the Board to the Governor’s office, and control over the files, which are official government documents, cannot be maintained.

Finally, there is no record of where the requests for clemency originated. Did the Governor send a list of individuals to the Parole Board, or did the Board send a list to the Governor? There is no answer to that question in the records.

I will be introducing legislation to correct these problems in the current legislative session. I support the Governor’s right to grant clemency. It is an important tool to serve justice when properly executed. However, there should be a process in place to insure that there is proper documentation of all the relevant facts. All official actions of the Parole Board should be spread upon their minutes, and those minutes and all public documents should be preserved, tracked and available for public review. It is unconscionable that the Parole Board has handled such an important matter in such an off-handed manner.

Cecil Brown
House of Representatives
District 66

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