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Obama the Unforgiving, in one chart

Cell block D of Alcatraz prison (By Flickr user Sean Hobson. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

Over at The Fix, Katie Zezima reports that President Obama has granted clemency fewer times than any modern president. For a sense of just how low the odds are, I grabbed the stats from the Justice Department on all presidents going back to William McKinley, and plotted them out below as follows: For each applicant who receives a pardon or clemency, how many don't?

clemency by president

For most of the 20th century the odds of receiving presidential clemency were about one in two or one in three. But starting with President Rondal Reagan that began to change. Under Obama, the odds are about 100 times worse than that: Only one out of roughly every 200 applicants has received a pardon or clemency so far.

But the Justice Department recently announced new clemency guidelines. As The Washington Post's Sari Horvitz writes, "the Obama administration is beginning an aggressive new effort to foster equity in criminal sentencing by considering clemency requests from as many as thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug offenses."

So we can expect the clemency odds to rise -- perhaps dramatically -- over the final years of Obama's second term.

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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