President Barack Obama has stated that criminal justice reform is something he wants to make a front-line issue during his final year in office. Now the president has taken a step toward what he believes will achieve that reform.
The president has commuted the sentences of 61 drug offenders currently incarcerated, including 21 who are serving life sentences.
The majority of the crimes were crack- and cocaine-related offenses. Some of the offenders will be released in July while others will be released in May of next year.
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In a letter to the inmates, the president said, “The power to grant pardons and commutations … embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
In total, Obama has commuted more sentences (248) than the previous six presidents combined.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston, writing in a blog, said clemency is a temporary fix, whereas what is really needed is law reform. “Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies. Broader criminal justice reform can truly bring justice to the many thousands of people behind bars serving unduly harsh and outdated sentences,” he said.
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“Throughout the remainder of his time in office, the president is committed to continuing to issue more grants of clemency as well as to strengthening rehabilitation programs,” Eggleston said.
The president’s clemency has focused on low-level drug offenders. The White House announced the president will meet with the convicted offenders to talk about re-entry into society.
Congress is currently debating bipartisan sentencing reform legislation.
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