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Haley Barbour pardons: Why were the forgiven so disproportionately white?

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In most such cases, including Barbour's, chief executives have denied any racial bias, noting that the pardon boards and attorneys do not note a person's race on their written recommendations to the executive.

"A majority of the clemency cases were reviewed by the Parole Board before being sent to Governor Barbour," Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp told Reuters, which conducted an analysis of Barbour's pardons. "Race was not a factor in his decision. In fact, it wasn't even listed on the Parole Board's application."

Black-white incarceration disparities are highest in the Northeast and Midwest and, overall, lowest in the South. Iowa, for example, has a black-to-white incarceration of 13-to-1 while Mississippi's ratio is 3-to-1.

Nevertheless, suspicions linger most especially in the South about the extent to which racial prejudice persists in the justice system and throughout society. In December, the US Justice Department declined to approve a new Voter ID law in South Carolina, for example, saying the state failed to prove how it would not disenfranchise blacks, a greater percentage of whom don't have state issued IDs.

Perhaps more than incarceration rate disparities, however, pardon rate inconsistencies suggest that biases may be less individual and more systemic. In Mississippi, for example, black prisoners, on the whole, have fewer resources than white prisoners, including access to personal lawyers, which may have led to fewer black prisoners requesting a pardon in the first place.

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