Book Review: Discretionary justice: Pardon and parole in New York from the revolution to the depression

AuthorDouglas Thomson
Date01 September 2020
Publication Date01 September 2020
SubjectBook Reviews
CJR794815 378..383 Book Reviews
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(3) 378-383
Book Reviews
ª 2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
Strange, C. (2016). Discretionary justice: Pardon and parole in New York from the revolution to the depression.
New York: NYU Press. 336 pp. $55. ISBN 9781479899920.
Reviewed by: Douglas Thomson, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818794815
The book covers a century and a half of New York State’s struggle with executive clemency,
examined as one facet of discretionary justice. Faithful to the historical reality, it focuses on pardon.
In contrast to most states, New York long clung to the “one-man pardon” approach that reserves to
the governor expansive discretionary authority. It featured ongoing challenges from the beginning.
Carolyn Strange explores the conflict among elites, with insurgents repeatedly foiled in attempts to
limit gubernatorial discretion in pardoning. She delivers a meticulous study that reads like an epic
story of an ancient war.
The introduction frames Pardon and Parole in the Empire State as rooted in the nation’s and the
state’s revolutionary origins. The “dual aspiration” of maintaining rule of law and related British
principles while dislodging monarchical (executive) dominance yielded a dialectical conflict that
would continue from the late- 18th century into the twentieth. From the state’s initial constitution
through each subsequent one, the people’s new electoral power remained subject to executive
discretion lodged in the governor’s office. The mercy associated with the pardon power of the
governor would joust with the liberty voice of the citizenry throughout the first century of nation-
hood and statehood. Then, the social invention of parole would complicate matters, raising addi-
tional challenges to executive domination of pardon.
Chapter 1, “Governing Mercy in the Emerging Republic,” explores the transition from colony to

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