Yesterday President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. This follows the commutation of eight federal inmates convicted of drug offenses by President Obama in December of 2014.
According to White House counsel Neil Eggleston, "had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years --- in some cases more than a decade --- longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Obama Administration also promised improvements in the commutation process. Yet, despite his administration's declared support for substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents.
President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.
"I am elated that President Obama continues to use his executive powers to grant freedom to those drug offenders who have served draconian sentences." said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. "I hope this sends a message to governors of states that have the power to grant clemencies to those who deserve a chance to be reunited with their families.
There is much legislation that Congress must enact with if the country is to address its mass incarceration problem. Chief among them is the Smarter Sentencing Act. This bipartisan legislation would cut mandatory minimum sentences, expand the "safety valve" to give judges more discretion in sentencing, and would make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.
"The President's actions today are welcome, but we need more action," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. " Congress must act quickly on substantive sentencing reform, and move forward with the Smarter Sentencing Act. It's time to rectify the US's embarrassing record on mass incarceration."