President Obama is considering granting clemency to a number of prisoners convicted of drug related offenses, provided that no violence was involved.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the president: “has asked the Justice Department to set up a process to ensure that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated.”
According to a report inYahoo News, it is possible that the president could pardon thousands of nonviolent drug offenders before the end of his second term. However, the White House refused to speculate how many people might qualify for presidential clemency.
Carney said that the decision will “depend entirely on the number of worthy candidates, and in terms of how many deserving candidates are out there, I couldn’t begin to speculate. The president believes that everyone should have a fair shot under the system for consideration.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will be releasing information about expanded criteria for considering which clemency applications should be forwarded to President Obama.
“Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens.”
Should Mr. Obama decide to extend his clemency grants, this will be a marked departure from his attitude to clemency applications in his first five years in office, when he granted very few pardons. Actually, he granted only 52 of the 1,600 pardon requests he received, and just nine out of 10,000 requests to reduce a sentence.
Anthony Papa, from the Drug Policy Alliance, said these reforms were a step in the right direction, adding:
“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.”
President Obama’s potential clemency changes are just part of a bigger picture concerned with reforming current sentencing practices, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders.
Attorney General Holder has now directed prosecutors to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.
The American Civil Liberties Union in a report at the end of last year claimed that at least 3,278 prisoners in the U.S. are serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent drug and property crimes.
Presumably, they would welcome President Obama’s new clemency policy.