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Obama Provides Clemency

Follows on Footsteps of White House’s Recent Call For Clemency Candidates
Drug Policy Alliance: Positive Step, But Comprehensive Sentencing Reform Is Needed to Prevent More Mass Injustice

A White House official told Yahoo
that President Obama is prepared to use his pardon power to grant
clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been jailed
for nonviolent drug crimes. The report said that the administration is
making moves that will help it handle the increase in petitions that Mr.
Obama is planning to sign off on before he leaves office. Last Tuesday,
White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said
Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency
recommendation process and recruit more applications from people behind
bars for drug law violations..
The White House’s new moves would follow in the footsteps of a January announcement that
the Obama administration would taking the unprecedented step of
encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might
let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe
penalties in low-level drug cases.
In December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal
inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses involving crack cocaine.
Mr. Obama said the eight men and women had been sentenced under an
“unfair system,” including the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between
crack and powder cocaine offenses that was reduced to 18:1 by the Fair
Sentencing Act of 2010.
In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of
forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S.,
promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh
sentencing guidelines. 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.
Mr. Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy
groups and family members of people who are serving mandatory minimum
drug sentences.
“This would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our
broken criminal justice system,” 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 governors with the same power at the
state level follow his lead and reunite more families.”
“With half a million people still behind bars on non-violent drug
charges, clearly thousands are deserving of a second chance. Congress
should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum
sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent
drug offenses,” added Papa.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has passed bipartisan sentencing
reform legislation that would reduce the federal prison population,
decrease racial disparities, save taxpayer money, and reunite nonviolent
drug law offenders with their families sooner.  The reforms are
supported by a strange bedfellows group of senators, including Senators
Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted
Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI)
and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
   
The Smarter Sentencing Act is the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades. It would:

  • Cut federal mandatory minimums for drug law violations, so that nonviolent offenders serve less time behind bars.
  • Make the reform to the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity that
    Congress passed in 2010 retroactive, so that thousands of people
    sentenced under the old draconian and racially unjust policy can leave
    prison early.
  • Expand the ability of judges to use their own discretion when
    sentencing defendants, so that judges can consider the unique facts of
    each case and each individual before them.

According to today’s report, the Justice Department is planning to
replace their pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, and is making other
administrative moves to prepare for the expanded clemency process:
“The scope of the new clemency initiative is so large that
administration officials are preparing a series of personnel and process
changes to help them manage the influx of petitions they expect Obama
to approve.  Among the changes is reforming the recently censured office
within the Justice Department responsible for processing pardon
petitions. Yahoo News has learned that the pardon attorney, Ronald
Rodgers, who was criticized in a 2012 Internal watchdog report for
mishandling a high-profile clemency petition, is likely to step down as
part of that overhaul. Additional procedures for handling large numbers
of clemency petitions could be announced as soon as this week, a senior
administration official said, though it could take longer.”