Mississippi governor stops prisoner work at mansion

STARKVILLE, Mississippi Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:31pm EST

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STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has ended a tradition of allowing prisoners to work at the governor's mansion amid a controversy over his predecessor's decision to pardon hundreds of convicts before he left office earlier this month.

Among the 222 convicts pardoned by former Governor Haley Barbour were five men serving life sentences, four of them for murder, who worked at the governor's mansion on prison work release doing domestic duties.

Six inmates recently assigned to the mansion have been given work duties elsewhere, Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Suzanne Singletary said on Friday.

Bryant took the decision to end work by trusties at the Governor's Mansion on Thursday, a spokesman for the governor said.

The pardons by Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman who considered running for president this year, generated debate about how much power a governor should have to pardon criminals convicted of serious crimes.

Barbour's office has said 90 percent of those receiving clemency were no longer in prison when the pardons were granted.

Typically, governors would offer a commutation to reduce the length of a sentence, rather than a full pardon, for convicts still in jail, experts said. A pardon restores certain civil rights, such as owning a gun or obtaining state licenses.

Since taking office, Bryant has met with leaders in the state legislature to craft legislation to limit the governor's authority to pardon inmates who committed violent crimes.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood obtained a court order to block the release of the 21 inmates still serving time who had been pardoned by Barbour.

He has also asked a court to void most of the pardons as more than three-quarters did not meet the constitutional requirement of having published notice of their request for clemency in local newspapers where the crimes were committed.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Daniel Trotta)

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