President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates throughout the United States. All eight were convicted of non-violent crimes involving crack cocaine. Each inmate spent more 15 years in prison.
At the time of the convictions, mandatory sentencing laws required severe punishment for drug offenders who sold, used, or possessed crack cocaine. However, the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses involving traditional cocaine were far less severe.
In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which lessened the punishment for crimes involving crack cocaine. The new guidelines made sentencing similar for both forms of the drug.
Although the laws changed, numerous inmates remained incarcerated with long sentences for their previous crimes. As reported by CNN, Obama commuted the eight drug offenders’ sentences as they were “unduly harsh” and “Issued under outdated sentencing regime.”
President Obama said releasing the inmates is “an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness.”
A bi-partisan bill introduced by Senators Richard J. Durbin and Mike Lee would allow for the release of more inmates, who were all sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act was signed. If passed, the law would provide inmates with a chance to have their cases reviewed for early release.
New York Times reports that Families Against Mandatory Minimums estimates nearly 9,000 inmates will qualify for review if the bill becomes law.
Under current law, the inmates would have been released years ago, saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars. The president’s actions underline an urgency to relax sentencing guidelines that fill United States prisons with non-violent offenders.
The eight inmates whose sentences were commuted by President Obama include:
- Clarence Aaron, sentenced to three life terms at the age of 22
- Reynolds Wintersmith, sentenced to life at the age of 17
- Stephanie George, sentenced to life
- Ezell Gilbert, sentenced to 24 years
- Helen Alexander Gray, Sentenced to 20 years
- Jason Hernandez, Sentenced to life
- Ricky Eugene Patterson, sentenced to life
- Billy Ray Wheelock, sentenced to life
The Bureau of Prisons was given 120 days to release the prisoners. President Obama’s decision to commute the sentences will give all eight inmates an opportunity to reunite with their families and move on with their lives.