President Obama is commuting the sentences of eight crack offenders, as the administration pushes back against harsh drug sentences that became popular in the ’80s.
This is huge news because Obama has been attacked for showing little mercy to prisoners; he has only ever commuted the sentence of one other prisoner during his entire time in office.
It’s also huge because it represents a continued commitment by the Obama administration to stop putting people away for decades or even life for nonviolent drug offenses. Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered prosecutors to stop charging defendants in a way that triggered mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes — which effectively tie judges’ hands and force them to mete out harsh punishments.
That order didn’t affect people who were already doing long time in federal prison for drug sentences, though. In order to be released early, they would need a commutation from the president.
Here’s part of a statement from Obama:
Today, I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system. Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison. In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime.
Most of the eight prisoners will be released within 120 days, according to The New York Times. One will be released right away, and another is getting out in 2018 because he had his sentence reduced to 20 years.
Half of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted belong to the influential advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. One of the people who got a commutation was Stephanie George, who our Christina Sterbenz wrote about here:
Stephanie George was sentenced to life in prison without parole at age 27 after the police found a lockbox of cocaine in her attic. The judge on the case defined her role as “a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence,” The New York Times reported. Once again, federal law forced the judge’s ruling.
Head over to The New York Times to read more about the eight inmates.
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