Whites favored over blacks? When has that ever been racist?

Gov. Haley Barbour recently pardoned a whole bunch of prisoners on his way out the door in Mississippi. Many of them had served out their sentences, so those pardons amount to little more than making it easier for the people in question to get jobs. (And, of course, if they commit more crimes, their punishments will be less in all likelihood.) A few of them, though, were given to people still serving time for crimes such as murder. Needless to say, the issue has been controversial. Overlooked, however, has been the racial makeup of those pardoned:

Barbour granted 222 acts of clemency in his tenure to 221 individuals: one convict’s sentence was initially suspended in 2008 and he then received a full pardon last week.

Of those, roughly two of three were white, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Corrections and a search of public records. The racial makeup of Mississippi’s prison population is the inverse: about two-thirds’ black.

Whites make up about 59 percent of the state’s population as a whole and blacks about 37 percent.

Barbour is saying race played no role, and in fact, it wasn’t even listed on relevant applications. It sounds like he may be off the hook on this one, but the Parole Board isn’t. The people who run that are responsible for most of the recommendations for pardons and it’s hard to believe they’re all blind.

But, hey, maybe it’s just a coincidence, right?

“The odds of a random sample of the prison population coming out with the same or greater disparity in racial proportions as the pardons list is less than one in a trillion, if race were truly unrelated to pardons.” [said University of Georgia statisticians Kim Love-Myers]

I know most conservatives will be apt to say race really isn’t a factor here, presumably because they want to make my brain explode, but it’s obvious that there are pervasive racial issues at play. There are some mitigating factors, of course. For instance, just as money equals power outside prison, it equals empowerment inside prison. Whites will tend to have more money to explore all their legal options. But this is a relatively trivial issue in this context. The fact is, whites are inherently more favored than blacks when requesting pardons:

Love-Myers and Reeves also found that based on Mississippi’s prison demographics, white prisoners were about four times more likely to be pardoned than black prisoners. That echoes a recent examination of presidential pardons under President George W. Bush by public interest non-profit news organization ProPublica.

In an analysis released last month of 1,918 applications for pardons during Bush’s administration, ProPublica found that white criminals seeking presidential pardons were nearly four times more likely to get them than minorities.

“It is, to say the least, astronomically unlikely that Barbour’s selection was color-blind,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Conviction. “Now whether that’s Barbour’s fault or the review board’s fault, is a different question. It was somebody’s fault. It’s not color-blind.”

What’s perhaps the most unfortunate thing in all this is that now even fewer pardons will be given out due to political pressures. Whether the percentages change in any appreciable way remains to be seen, but if things continue to trend as they have been, the fact is the sheer number of blacks getting pardons is going to decrease.

I suspect in conservative la-la land, though, none of this has a thing to do with race.

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2 Responses

  1. I thought he pardoned people who worked in the governor’s mansion through a program. Selection for that program automatically means you are not getting a random sample of the prison population.

  2. I believe only a small portion came from the people who worked in the mansion.

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