Why do legislators pardon turkeys- but not people?

Experts say the penchant for a Thanksgiving photo op means a critical part of addressing mass incarceration gets ignored

On Tuesday morning, North Dakota’s Republican governor Doug Burgum use the authority invested in him to ensure that Lilly,” a North Dakota turkey of penalty specimen ,” has a free and relaxing Thanksgiving. He wished Lilly a long and healthy life, full of” gobbling without being gobbled “.

Gov. Doug Burgum (@ DougBurgum)

Pleased today to pardon Lilly, a top-notch turkey from Tolna who will be back on the farm this Thanksgiving, safe to gobble without being gobbled.

Thanks to the ND Turkey Federation for its generous donations to Heaven’s Helpers Soup Cafe and the Abused Adult Resource Center. pic.twitter.com/ 59 mzETDabl

November 25, 2019

As everyone knows, the tradition of pardoning turkeys on Thanksgiving goes back as far as Abraham Lincoln( who actually pardoned his turkey on Christmas ).

But it’s also causing some disarray, because governors have another power vested in them: to pardon those convicted of crimes.

Although Burgum has issued a number of pardons in recent years, the narrative has provided a much needed springboard for criminal justice proponents to talk about an uncomfortable fact: some governors are more comfy pardoning turkeys than people.

” New Hampshire hasn’t pardoned anyone other than turkeys in 23 years. It’s shameful ,” tweeted Anoop Prasad, an an attorney at the Asian Statute Caucus, on Monday.( New Hampshire has in fact granted one pardon, to an ex-Republican party chairman .)

Anoop Prasad #FreeLiyah (@ anoop_alc)

You have yet to pardon a SINGLE human being. New Hampshire hasn’t pardoned anyone other than turkeys in 23 years. It’s shameful. https :// t.co/ 0acuxkntSS

November 25, 2019

Pardons can be used to restore the civil right of a person after they have served their time- allowing them to, for example, buy a firearm again, sit on a jury, or reveal the pardon as proof of having changed since the crime. Another type of clemency, known as a commutation, can be used to reduce a criminal sentence or let a person out of jail early. Both practises have become increasingly rare since the 1990 s.

” Granting pardons in the US was a pretty normal part of the criminal justice system, until George HW Bush attacked it ,” said Prasad, referencing a dog-whistle ad taken out by Bush Sr in the 1988 election. Bush Sr utilized the image of Willie Horton– a black human who was pardoned and subsequently raped a woman and murdered her husband- to accuse opponents of being soft on crime.

Prasad said:” You find a lot of governors who don’t exert clemency at all any more, except for this weird act of pardoning a turkey once a year. And yet, it’s a really critical part of addressing mass incarceration that gets dismissed .”

Pardons can be used to highlight some of the injustices of the criminal justice system to the public, as well as granting palpable relief to constituents.

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