Obama uses clemency power amid draconian drug sentencing laws

Obama’s promise to expand his clemency powers for certain drug offenses has come to fruition. He recently commuted the sentences of eight inmates who were handed down harsh prison terms.

Media coverage about unfair prison sentences hundreds of thousands of low-level drug offenders are serving as a result of mandatory sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s has gained traction through the years.

Four years ago, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a law that eliminated the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine quantities and abolished the five year mandatory sentence for simple crack cocaine possession.

Critics, however, were quick to point out that, although the new Act was a step in the right direction, it wasn't retroactive. Inmates handed down outlandish prison sentences prior to 2010 would still be mandated to serve out their long sentences.

Recognizing this, Obama soon stated his intentions to find solutions for those who won't have recourse under the new law and to restore "justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety."

One way was through the use of clemency power. Last month, Obama announced his plans to expand clemency eligibility for a wider range of drug offenses. He notified the Office of the Pardon Attorney to expect and prepare for an increase in applications.

And it seems that he has come through on his promise.

Obama commutes 8 sentences

According to the New York Times, President Obama recently commuted the sentences of eight individuals who were serving long sentences for various drug offenses. Instead of spending the remainder of their days behind bars, they all will soon see freedom.

"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," Obama stated last month.

One of the eight individuals has received widespread media attention. In 1993, Clarence Aaron was sentenced to three life-term prison sentences after he got caught up in a drug deal. He was 22-years-old when he began serving his time. Now, 21 years later, spending his remaining life behind bars is no longer a reality.

Along with eight sentences Obama commuted, the President also issued 13 pardons.

Hope for others

It remains to be seen just how many additional cases will come under the President's radar. Recent estimates indicate that 2,000 inmates serving time in federal prisons are eligible for clemency due to the expansion.

It's likely President Obama will commute additional sentences during his remaining term in office, particularly amid the heightened awareness about draconian prison sentences so many are serving in the U.S. today.

Keywords: clemency, drug offenses