The effect of race in presidential pardons

An analysis from ProPublica shows that whites benefit more from presidential pardons:

In an in-depth investigation of the presidential pardons process, published this week, ProPublica found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence were considered.

The president ultimately decides who gets a pardon, but Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have relied heavily on recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney inside the Justice Department.

The experts ProPublica talked to don’t all agree on exactly what should be done. Sociologist Frank Dobbin has this suggestion:

“If the goal you want is equivalence for black and whites, the solution should not be to put in more bureaucracy to limit decision-makers’ authority,” Dobbin said. “The solution should probably be some oversight system where the numbers are looked at regularly, and then decisions should be revisited when it looks like there’s some disparity.”

Studies show that more minorities get jobs when companies track race and appoint an individual or board to independently review hiring decisions, Dobbin said.

A number of other experts seem to agree: having an independent board review the decisions would help keep the issue of race at the forefront and help avoid implicit biases.

My first thought when reading this is that why should we expect this to be any different knowing that the criminal justice system is tilted statistically against non-whites and away from white-collar crimes. If traffic stops, convictions, jail time, and death-row decisions are influenced by race, why wouldn’t pardons?

My second thought: are presidential pardons archaic? Do they really benefit society or are they about tradition or political favors (see the recently-revealed disagreement between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney over pardoning Scooter Libby)?

According to the analysis, some other factors that help people get pardons include having “letters of congressional support” and being married.