“Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands” of Federal Drug Prisoners Could be Freed Under New Clemency Rules

Stop the Drug War – by Phillip Smith

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will soon release new, more expansive criteria for recommending federal prisoner clemency applications for President Obama to review.  That means Obama, who has so far freed a paltry 10 prisoners early in his first six years could free “hundred, perhaps thousands” in its final two, a senior administration official told Yahoo News Monday.    

Most of those who will be eligible for clemency under the new criteria are doing time for drug crime, a category that accounts for 50.1% of the federal prison population, or roughly 100,000 inmates. As the Justice Department noted in its press release, the move will be “an important step to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders in the federal prison system.”

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Holder said in a video message posted on the department’s website.  “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Later this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce more specific details about the expanded criteria the department will use and the logistical effort underway to ensure proper reviews of the anticipated wave of applications, the press release said.

President Obama has, midway through his second term, begun moving to use his clemency power. In December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. He 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 but note eliminated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

This latest move was foreshadowed by a January announcement that the 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, and again last week, when White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

Drug reform advocates greeted the announcement as a step in the right direction and as a signal to state governors—most drug offenders are doing time on state, not federal, charges—but also as a tail-end fix for a problem that needs front-end solutions.

“This would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our broken criminal justice system. I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families,” 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.”

“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.

It could do that by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which has already made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the meantime, liberating some of the thousands of people currently imprisoned with harsh drug sentences is a move that can’t come soon enough.


5 thoughts on ““Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands” of Federal Drug Prisoners Could be Freed Under New Clemency Rules

  1. I don’t think the prisons for profit are going to like this very much. That is a big bump in the finances eh?

  2. I said (many) years ago that the first signal of Government crackdown/Martial law will be the release of thousands and thousands of prisoners.
    The prisoners will have no support system, no possible income and no way of living in the society suddenly flooded with criminals, who are violent and trained by the prison system. (They may not have been violent before entering the prisons, but now they have only one method of resolving anything)
    The populace will be so scared and terrorised in their homes and streets that they will beg the government to “get tough” and “protect” them.
    The “problem” will be “Guns” and new laws and the shredding of current laws will be by executive order, and then hello FEMA camp.
    When thousands of prisoners are released, head for the hills.
    It has been the precursor in many revolutions.

  3. I kidnapped Adam Walsh. Off topic? Hardly. It’s all connected and they should have released the “prisoners” of this joke of an American “system” decades ago. It appears Britain has taken up the birther/fake drug war issue now that America appears to have folded. Members of the Medellin Cartel, PROTECTED by the US gov while imprisoning hundreds of thousands of innocents.

  4. I’m going to guess that Mexicans that are here illegally will be freed so they can work for a dollar per hour, but Americans will stay behind bars and their estates will be billed for their “lodging”.

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