Today, President Barack Obama put his pen where his values are and commuted the sentences of 22 incarcerated Americans, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued since he’s been in office—all of them for non-violent drug offenses, directly addressing the crack versus cocaine sentencing disparities that has especially devastated the African American community.
According to the Huffington Post, those granted clemency on Tuesday were all sentenced to jail for intent to distribute drugs, with 14 of the 22 cases involving possession or distribution of cocaine. Huff Po also reports that the president wanted to give clemency to a more broad applicant pool, and “not lean toward well-connected white-collar criminals.”
Counsel to the President Neil Eggleston released a statement outlining the specific reasoning behind the president’s actions. “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,” said Eggleston. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”
The 22 individuals all met clear criteria: clean records in prison, and those who were sentenced under “outdated laws and policies.” Further, Eggleston said that the Justice Department has raised awareness in Federal prisons about this clemency initiative, saying that “every federal inmate who believes they are deserving of this invaluable second chance has the opportunity to ask for it.”
This afternoon, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett tweeted a copy one of the letters signed by the president with the words: “President Obama gave 22 individuals this letter and a second chance.”
The letter sent to each of the prisoners read in part:
“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances,” the letter reads. “But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so, you will affect not only your own life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong. So good luck, and Godspeed.”
USA Today reports that President Obama has been increasingly vocal about his intent to use his constitutional clemency powers more aggressively in his last two years as president. Added to his prior 21 commutations, the President has now granted 43 commutations total. President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences in his eight years in office.
Eight of the prisoners who will have their sentences reduced were serving life sentences, and all but one will be released on July 28, 2015.