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Statistical Analysis of Presidential Pardons

NCJ Number
Nicholas M. Pace; James M. Anderson; Shamena Anwar; Danielle Schlang; Melissa A. Bradley; Amalavoyal Chari
Date Published
June 2021
224 pages

Since the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) processes thousands of requests for executive clemency each year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) commissioned a statistical examination of how OPA screens incoming petitions, investigates the facts underlying the petitions, and evaluates the merits of petitions when crafting recommendations to the President to grant or deny a pardon.


Data were analyzed for patterns in OPA decisions that indicated racial or ethnic bias. A BJS Disclaimer for this report indicates that although BJS funded this third-party report, it is not a BJS report and does not release official government statistics. This report is released to assist in informing interested parties of the research or analysis and to encourage discussion. The approach used in the study of the OPA’s procedures is outlined. The findings of the current study pertain to who does and does not get pardoned, outcome predictors, an analysis of information considered in the petition evaluation process, and racial differences in overall pardon recommendation rates. The analysis of the impact of race on the overall decision to recommend or deny a pardon petition was inconclusive. Although no evidence was found that was consistently significant for racial disparities in the overall recommendation rates for the sample of cases analyzed, the essentially random sample had relatively more pardons of Blacks than would have been expected; thus, it is difficult to make definitive statements regarding what racial differences existed in OPA decision-making for the larger population once petitioner and case characteristics were controlled. This report recommends that the data collection that was ended prematurely be completed at some future time when the current surge in OPA’s workload has tempered. Extensive tables and 73 references