The Impact
The Impact
Jan 15, 2020
After conviction, a second chance
Play • 30 min

President Gerald Ford took office during one of the most difficult times in the country’s history. In August 1974, the US had just lived through Watergate, President Richard Nixon’s resignation, and more than a decade of divisive fighting over its involvement in Vietnam. While millions of Americans fought in Southeast Asia, many others protested the war at home — or dodged the draft.

Ford wanted to find a way to bring the country together. Just a few weeks after assuming the presidency, he created a Clemency Review Board, a bipartisan group that would decide the fate of the young Americans who were convicted of refusing induction, or going AWOL (absent without leave), from Vietnam. Those young men could fill out an application, and the board would decide whether they deserved a pardon — which would erase a felony conviction from their record.

Many of the Democratic candidates for president want to do the same thing today. They’re proposing a Clemency Review Board to review applications from federal inmates, many of whom are serving long sentences because of harsh penalties enacted during the War on Drugs. 

In this episode: forgiveness and redress after two long conflicts, the Vietnam War, and the War on Drugs. The Impact looks back at how Ford tried to heal the nation — and how he transformed the lives of two men as a result. We’ll also find out how Ford’s idea might work today, for a new generation of young people behind bars.

Further listening and reading: 

  • The Uncertain Hour’s third season explores the War on Drugs and its aftermath
  • Vox’s German Lopez on incarceration in America
  • Vox’s guide to where 2020 candidates stand on policy, including criminal justice reform 
  • Professor Mark Osler’s law review article on Ford’s Clemency Review Board

Subscribe to The Impact on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app to automatically get new episodes of the latest season each week.


Jillian Weinberger, @jbweinz

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