Clemency Policy


State and Federal Guide to Clemency and Commutation of Sentence 
By Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
This website is the first comprehensive, nationwide database providing information on clemency and commutation of sentence on both the state and federal levels. It gives state and federal prisoners (and their attorneys, families and friends) the basic information they need to apply to the Governor or other proper authority to get an early release from prison through a commutation of sentence. It provides samples of the actual forms required by the states where they are available.

State Guide to Pardon Procedure
By Margaret Colgate Love, NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource Project
An offender who has completed his or her sentence can apply for a pardon to partially or completely erase the record and collateral consequences of the conviction. This comprehensive guide provides details on the process of seeking a pardon for state prisoners in all 50 states.

Recent Developments in Federal Commutation and Clemency Policy:

On April 23, 2014, the Department of Justice announced a Federal clemency plan designed to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders who have served 10 or more years in prison. Details can be found on the Clemency Project 2014 website. This applies only to Federal offenders. For clemency policies in the state prison system, consult CJPF's state-by-state clemency guide.

After pardoning and commuting the sentences of the fewest people of any post-WWII President in Obama's first term, on December 19, 2013, he shortened the sentences of 8 prisoners, including Clarence Aaron. CJPF has been working on the Clarence Aaron case for years, and applauds this development. Read Eric E. Sterling’s analysis on the Huffington Post of how, while this is a positive development, more needs to be done. 

In January 2014, Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked for defense attorneys to make recommendations for further commutations. This is a positive development that we hope will lead to more commutations for non-violent offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum sentences. Furthermore, he stated that the 8 commutations were only a "first step" out of many.


CJPF has been working for reform of sentencing laws since 1989. The focus of its work in sentencing has been to reform the Federal mandatory minimum sentences. We work closely with Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

In 2000, CJPF organized hundreds of clergy around the country – the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency (CJC) – to appeal to President Bill Clinton to use his constitutional power to commute the sentences of deserving low-level, non-violent drug offenders who had been sentenced to excessively long sentences. This campaign helped create the political climate that encouraged President Clinton to commute almost two dozen low-level drug offenders. The Court TV movie Guilt By Associationfeatures the CJC campaign to reduce sentences. As large as the Federal prison population has grown, from 25,000 in the 1970s to 40,000 in 1986 to 217,000 now, it is still much smaller than the total population in state prisons.

More than two million persons are being held in prisons and jails convicted of state criminal charges. The cost of housing these prisoners has grown enormously. The nation’s adult correctional budget in FY 2002 exceeded $40 billion -- in FY 1992, the budgets totaled only $19.3 billion. These correctional costs are also absorbing large amounts of total state expenditures. In FY 2002, the average state’s correctional costs were 3.6% of total state expenditures.

Every state has granted the Governor or some other agency some power to commute the sentences or to parole persons sentenced to prison. Each state has different procedures. Sometimes the procedures of a state are very clearly spelled out; other times they are ambiguous.

The information on this website is the best we could provide, but it is not a substitute for actually contacting the Governor’s office, the State Parole Board or other appropriate agency. These procedures are subject to change without notification to us. The information on this site is not legal advice and is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney or qualified and experienced paraprofessional.

Eric E. Sterling


Note: Federal prisoners housed in state facilities cannot receive clemency from state authorities. Instead, they are required to seek a Federal commutation of sentence from President Obama. Such inmates should follow the instructions provided for inmates in Washington, DC.