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President Obama Takes Important Action on Commutations

President Obama Takes Important Action on Commutations

On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the drug sentences of 22 individuals, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued throughout his entire presidency. The men and women who were granted clemency had been imprisoned under an outdated sentencing regime, and "had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their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 White House counsel Neil Eggleston in a statement. In fact, many of these individuals served years, some even more than a decade, longer than they would if convicted of the same crime today.

Of the 22 inmates who received clemency, eight of them had been sentenced to life in prison and would have died behind bars. All 22 of the individuals were sentenced for intent to distribute an illegal drug, and 14 of the cases involved possession or distribution of cocaine.

The President’s actions on Tuesday marked the beginning of his announced plan to grant clemency “more aggressively” during the remainder of his presidency. Prior to Tuesday, he had only granted a total of 21 commutations. He also noted that he has been receiving more applicants, most likely a result of the Clemency Project 2014, a working group composed of lawyers and advocates launched last January after Deputy Attorney General James Cole called on the legal profession to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely receive shorter sentences, if they were tried and sentenced today.

As Jews we work to reaffirm the Biblical concept that the criminal is a human being, capable of reshaping his or her life: "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11). Thus, as long time advocates of criminal justice reform, we are very encouraged by the President’s commutations and acknowledgement of the severity of this issue. However, we know that without comprehensive criminal justice reform, the roots of this problem will continue to grow. To that end, please contact your Senators and urge them to support the Smarter Sentencing Act to ensure that sentencing laws are fair and proportionate.

For more information about the RAC’s work on criminal justice, check out our website.

Published: 4/03/2015

Categories: Social Justice