The grant of clemency to a number of convicts, by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, was met with a barrage of strong criticism against such actions. A recent study by Reuters points to the possibility of racism in the Governor's action.
Barbour's decision to pardon or commute the prison sentences of more than 200 convicts surprised many; primarily because the number was enormous, compared to pardons granted by his immediate predecessors.
According to the Reuters report, Barbour granted clemency, during his tenure, to 221 individuals. Of that number, 141 (approximately 64 percent) were white Americans and 68 (approximately 31 percent) were African Americans. However, the interesting point is that the latter represent 64.9 percent of the prison population, while white Americans constitute only 33.9 percent.
The former Governor's actions were cause for much controversy in the state.
According to a Position national scientific survey, the majority of Americans polled believe the Governors of states ought not to have the right to pardon convicted killers.
The survey was conducted following public outrage over pardons granted by Barbour. The list of prisoners who were pardoned by the former Governor also includes four convicted killers who, under the prison-trustee laborer system, worked at the Governor's house; three of them were murder convicts.
However, Barbour, through a spokesperson, denied skin color played any role in his decisions.
A majority of the clemency cases were reviewed by the Parole Board before being sent to Governor Barbour, Laura Hipp, the spokesperson, told Reuters. Race was not a factor in his decision. In fact, it wasn't even listed on the Parole Board's application, she added.
Meanwhile, the study points out that regardless of the reasons for such decisions, the disparity suggests a statistical anomaly. The revelations gain importance against the backdrop of a scheduled court hearing against the pardons to be held on Monday. The hearing is on a complaint filed by the state's Attorney-General, alleging that 156 of the total 221 pardons were unconstitutional.