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Topics Homepage> Parole boards, not executives, should make final decisions on pardons and clemency

Parole boards, not executives, should make final decisions on pardons and clemency

PRO (6 assertions)


Executives: Chief executive of the state government, a.k.a. the Governor; we’re not debating about the president’s power to pardon

Parole boards: An independent, professional board comprised of 14 lawyers or people with legal expertise of the criminal justice system that wouldn’t be selected by the Governor.

Should not grant: As in what we should do morally to get a fairer and just sentencing


The Plan

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Now, before I go into my own points, I would first like to discuss the topicality of this issue. So, the topic is, “Parole boards, not executives, should make final decisions on pardons and clemency.” Now, as the proposition, all we have to prove is that parole boards should make the final decisions. Therefore, the PRO’s stance on this issue is that we should have both parole boards and executives in a system that incorporates both to reach a final result but where the parole board ultimately reaches the final decision. Parole boards would make decisions on pardons and clemency and write up the cases on these issues, but executives would have the right to veto the decisions. This would function just like our Congress and President do today; Congress makes the laws while the President has the right to veto it or affirm it. That way we get the best of both worlds, and the checks and balances in our system help to make justice served fairer and better. If the executive in our system does veto a parole boards decision, then it would go back to the parole board and the board would need to vote again and get a 2/3 vote in the board to override the veto, just as our Congress and President function today. Now, our opponents may say that executives still have too much power in our system, but as I just said before, a parole board could override the executive’s decision with a 2/3 vote. Now, my opponents could also say that executives could be biased in their veto making. That’s why, in our system, if the executive has any personal biasedness in an issue or personal conflicts, than he or she could abstain from vote, neither affirming nor vetoing the decision. So that is the Pro’s stance on the issue, that both parole boards and executives should be allowed to symbiotically grant pardons and clemency. 13 states already have this system, and it works fine. One example of as state that uses this system currently is the Texas Parole system, which has a criminal recidivism rate of 20% below the national average. An eighteen member Board of Pardons and Paroles decides release dates for prisoners, gives pardons and determines clemency, but the governor has the right to veto the decision. So in the end, parole boards do make the final decisions, and thus it fits into the PRO’s side of this topic. So, onto my own points...

1. Assertion: Parole boards have a diversity of viewpoints that represent more varied interests and experiences, like a jury

Reasoning: Executives are single people with one mindset and opinion. Parole boards, however, are composed of a group of people with varied views of different issues and possess more experience than does just one person. These varied views and opinions all help to counteract a single person’s inherent personal biasness, and help parole boards to reach fairer and more just conclusions on sentencing. Executives, however, are one person, and an executive making a decision by him or herself will make the decision based on his or her own inherent bias towards a subject. There is not conferring if executives just decide the sentence, nor are there varied viewpoints or diverse opinions. This all leads to a fairer sentencing by a parole board than by a single executive.

Evidence: There are countless examples of executives pardoning people to the objection of the public. The top eight infamous examples according to Time magazine include: Andrew Johnson pardoning thousands of Confederate soldiers after the Civil War, Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon for the Watergate Scandal, the pardoning of the Vietnam War draft dodgers, the forgiving of Mark Felt (a.k.a. Deep Throat) and Edward Miller for breaking into Vietnam protesters’ homes and offices without warrants during the Nixon presidency, the pardoning of Cleveland shipping tycoon George Steinbrenner from 14 criminal counts, and the pardoning of the seven people involved in the Iran-Contra Affair by President George H.W. Bush. All of these incidents led to a drop of at least 20 points in these presidents’ approval ratings, proving that these decisions were frowned upon and didn’t represent the public’s wishes.


2. Assertion: Parole boards’ decisions are more likely to be beneficial for society than an executive’s

Reasoning: Parole boards, as stated before, have varied opinions and views that help the boards to reach fairer and more just decisions. Eight, not one, people get to decide, and they obviously have more life experience and varied opinions than does one executive. Also, executives are busy people, and don’t have the time to sit down, read fifty pages of boring data, and make decisions on one person when they can be making more important decisions that affect millions of people in their state. Parole boards, however, have the sole job to do review pardons and clemency, and that is their sole function. For example, if you have a toothache, do you go to your pediatrician, or do you go to your specialized dentist who’s sole purpose in life is to cure toothaches? Using that same logic, would you rather go to an executive who has 5,000 other things on his mind to pardon dangerous criminals who could be let loose without sufficient reasoning behind it, or a parole board who’s sole function is to do this task and can devote time and effort into it that executives cannot. And because of all this, parole boards can reach better decisions

Evidence: In 2006, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, for example, ranted pardons and clemency to over 1000 different individuals, of which the recidivism rate was 96% after being pardoned. After his term as governor was up, he explained that the, “harsh political climate and my image to the public as a nice guy” forced him to grant these unnecessary pardons to the detriment of society. (NYTimes “Charming and Aloof, Huckabee Changed State”) On at least two occasions, state governors — George Ryan of Illinois and Toney Anaya of New Mexico — have commuted all death sentences in their respective states prior to leaving office. Clearly, these governors were motivated by their personal opposition to capital punishment, even though this was the punishment dealt by that states legal system. On the flip side are governors who use their powers to overturn parole as a show of being tough against crime. Since 1988 California has allowed its Governor to reverse parole orders for convicted murderers, and governors have used this power so aggressively, the courts had to intervene. Democrat Gray Davis allowed only nine of 371 murderers paroled during his tenure to go free. Schwarzenegger overturned his 17-member parole board, in about 60% of cases. By effectively eliminating the possibility of parole, whether as a matter of policy or by default, fundamentally changes the nature of the sentences the inmates were given. If judges had meant to give them life without the possibility of parole, they would have done so. (Baltimore Sun)

On the other hand, of the 476 people that the Florida Parole Board issued pardons and clemency to in 2009, less than 25% of those pardoned committed another crime, (Miami Herald) and the recidivism rates for people pardoned by the Colorado Parole Board numbered only 38% (NYTimes).

Clearly, executives, as illustrated by this point, cannot make as educated and fair decisions as parole boards can thus parole boards must be able to grant pardons and clemency and not executives.

3. Assertion: Parole boards do not succumb to political pressure

Reasoning: Executives (governors, and the president) are subject to political and economic pressure, and easily succumb to it when making decisions that can affect lives. Parole boards, however, are much more “out of the spotlight” and aren’t affected by the turmoil of the political field as much as a governor or the president, who knows that this decision about a criminal, though it could be the clear wrong one, could be the difference in winning the voters over for the next election. All that a governor is motivated by is political pressure, while parole boards don’t have this problem when reaching their decisions.

Evidence: Former California Governor Edmund Brown admitted that political pressure directly affected his clemency decisions. California Governor Wilson, too, was likely influenced by the ongoing media frenzy and public outcry in making his decisions to deny commutation to death row prisoner Robert Alton Harris. Governor Wilson also denied clemency to twenty-eight battered women convicted of crimes in California who petitioned him, for he understood that these cases posed significant political liability, despite instances of sympathetic media coverage. (New York Law School) Also, according to the article “Brown Targeted Over Opposition to Death Penalty” published in the Sacramento Bee in 1994, “Governors are so afraid of signing their own political death warrant that clemency is just not exercised at anywhere near the rate it was 20 years ago. The only governors commuting death sentences are lame duck governors who are on their way out.”


4. Assertion: Parole boards can represent victim’s rights better

Reasoning: When executives make decisions, it is solely them and how the political field is looking from their viewpoint. Victims, sadly, are often considered unnecessary noise in the background when they reach decisions on pardons and clemency, and thus, the unimportant victim with absolutely no political leverage over the executive has his or her voice shut out when the still dangerous criminal is pardoned. Parole boards, however, are created to accommodate this. Seven of the people in the parole board, as we’ve defined it, would be specialists in this area of legality, while the other person, who would be changed in and out as different cases came and went, would represent the victim, which, as of now, doesn’t happen when pardons and clemency are decided upon, and thus victims loose their rights in this process. With our plan, however, victims can speak and can have a voice in the decision-making to help reach a fairer and more just conclusion.

Evidence: A Gallup poll found that 84% of victims of crimes whose criminals were applying for parole felt that they had no say in the process and that their opinions would have been valuable in the decision making. Out of 2000 victims surveyed by Times magazine, 76% of victims didn’t even know that the criminal who had murdered a close family member had applied and gotten parole. This is unjust for the victims and their opinions and views need to be honored when we are deciding whether or not to release a potentially dangerous criminal.

Assertions #5, 6

CON (5 assertions)

Start of speech by saying this:

As President Truman famously said “The buck stops here” meaning that he didn't 'pass the buck' to anyone else but accepted personal responsibility for the way the country was governed. This is why we elect our executives, so the buck can stop somewhere and someone is held accountable. And that is precisely why executives should make the final decisions on pardons and clemency.


Rebuttal To: How come we only know of executives making bad decisions and not parole boards?

Assertion: exactly – that’s is the strongest support for our case you could have offered. No one knows what parole boards do or even who they are. Everyone knows every time an executive makes a bad decision. I would like to ask my opponents a question: Do you know the name of the Californian governor? How about the names of the members of California’s Parole Board? Exactly. And it is precisely this accountability that supports the case for the executive to have the final decision, for they experience the negatives of their mistakes unlike parole boards and are forced to put more input into their decisions.

1. Assertion: Governors are more accountable for their action than parole boards

Reasoning: Governors are in the spotlight; google Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger, Bush, any major president, and you will find bad decisions that have tarnished their record. The very fact that there are all these bad decisions are in the public spotlight makes these executives responsible for their actions. Because parole boards are out of the public spotlight, the multitudes of terrible decisions they make go untouched compared to a public decision made by the executive. Simply put, an executive is responsible. Why? Because, as I said before, executives are in the public spotlight. They are faulted and are punished for bad decisions, which forces them to put more and more input and consideration into their decisions. A parole board, however, is a nameless group of people that form a bureaucracy out of the public’s spotlight that cannot be punished for bad decision. And when power is given to those who essentially operate behind the scene, there is not only going to be a much higher rate of corruption, but there is also going to be less media coverage and public knowledge of said corruption. I ask you: Do you know the names of the people who serve on the California parole board? No. Do you know the name of your Governor? If you believe a miscarriage of justice was done in the granting of a pardon, can you punish your parole board? Do you even know how to contact them to show your dissatisfaction with their decision? No, because they are a nameless group of bureaucrats, meeting privately in an undisclosed location. Where is the accountability? We couldn’t think of a better system to encourage unchecked abuse of power. You could fault a governor by filing a complaint with his office, you can write to your local congressman, you can damage the executive’s reputation by writing about it in newspapers or on the internet, you can make campaign contributions to his opponents, and best yet, you can vote him out of office. And you won’t be alone. The entire constituency of the state or country will be doing the same because everyone will know of his misdeed. But you couldn’t do that with a parole board, could you?

Evidence: A 2007 NYT article entitled “An Analysis of Current New York State Parole Policy.” Specific example: Nixon and Ford case


2. Assertion: Parole boards do not always make adequate or good decisions

Reasoning: In most cases, parole boards lack the ability to make good decisions regarding parole and clemency. Not only do the members on the boards often have no legal expertise to help them make their decisions, (for most of the people who comprise a board are regular people, just like on a jury) but they are also overworked. As a result of all of this, parole boards more often than not make uneducated and wrong decisions that harm society later along the road.

Reasoning 2: Parole boards are formed solely to grant parole. This in mind, many parole board members feel that they need to justify their salary by granting parole. If they never granted parole, why do we need them in the first place? Granting parole is their job, and, like all people, they are motivated to justify their jobs and keep their jobs. Who can blame them? However, granting parole is not the sole purpose of Executives so they are not burdened with the same motivation as parole boards to grant as many paroles as possible. Thus, executives are in a position to counter-balance the over zealous granting of paroles by parole boards.

Evidence: Studies have shown that the people who parole boards grant pardons or clemency are over 7 times more likely to return to jail in the next five years than someone who an executive pardons, according to the National Institute of Justice. Parole, it seems, has become a new path to prison, thanks to these incompetent boards.

In 1999 in California, 67% of the admissions to California’s prisons were parole violators, about 90,000 people.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 74% of prisoners released on parole were arrested for a new crime within 3 years of their release. Thus, parole boards have not demonstrated the sound judgment necessary to make their parole decisions successful. Why should we reward them with the greater responsibility of granting pardons and clemency?

3. Assertion: Executives are experienced and knowledgeable and make good decisions

Reasoning: Executives are educated people who obviously understand the law. The very fact that they are executives just proves the fact that these men and women are extremely intelligent when it comes to understanding our legal system and know what they’re talking about and doing. Also, executives represent their states, and they know that if they make a bad decision that angers the public then they probably won’t be elected next year. That is why they spend so much time making decisions and care so much about them, because they know that they need to keep the public happy in order to stay in office. So, actually, the political field and public pressure helps executives to make more educated, moral, and better decisions about parole and clemency.

Evidence: According to the NYTimes, executives employ not only their knowledge of a subject on a single topic but can task their entire staff to work on deciding an issue. An executive’s staff, which is entirely educated and can make good decisions, can decide on the issue at hand much better than a less educated common citizen serving on a parole board reluctantly. This is evident in the recidivism rate of inmates granted parole by executives, which is 36% lower than that for people granted parole from parole boards.

4. Assertion: Executives can make fairer and more reasonable pardons and rulings

Reasoning: If you were to steal a bike, spray paint a public building, and break into a convenience store, then you’d be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years and a parole board, which has to follow minimum sentencing laws, has to follow this. Judge, I’m sure you’ll agree that that’s far too harsh. Executives, however, could change this, for they don’t have to follow minimum sentencing laws. Parole boards by law have to follow what are called minimum sentencing laws, which, as we demonstrated, can be outrageous. However, parole boards must abide by this. Executives, however, don’t, and can make fairer decisions without being bound to a generalized law that shouldn’t apply in certain cases

Evidence: National law

Assertions #5