Hope, At Last, for Some Federal Prisoners

Here's some truth for you: many federal prisoners would receive substantially shorter sentences for the exact same crime if they were sentenced today under the current law. Many would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of outdated laws that are now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.

That's why the Department of Justice's announcement today is such a big deal. Deputy Attorney General James Cole this morning announced a new, broader set of criteria that the DOJ and White House will use when considering clemency petitions from federal prisoners.

Under these new criteria, the DOJ and White House are seeking commutation requests from federal prisoners who have served at least 10 years for nonviolent crimes, have no history of violence and no significant ties to gangs or cartels, have demonstrated good conduct in prison, and would have received a shorter sentence if sentenced today.

With today's announcement, President Obama now has a momentous opportunity to give many Americans who have been unnecessarily locked up for far too long the opportunity to reunite with their families.

Since 1980 our federal prison population has grown by 800 percent, and the federal prison system is now nearly 40 percent over capacity. Over 2,000 federal prisoners are serving life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes, and many more are serving unduly harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses.

While some Republican and Democrat state governors consistently use their executive clemency powers, President Obama has instead granted clemency at a lower rate than that of any modern president. This is a historic opportunity for President Obama to start undoing the damage done by federal sentencing laws that have shattered families, wasted millions of dollars, and caused our federal prison population to balloon out of control.

The DOJ has made clear it has set up a sensible, careful process to carefully scrutinize petitions and select deserving people for reduction of sentence who pose no risk to public safety. To help aid the process, the DOJ plans to assign more attorneys to review these cases and has appointed Debby Leff as the new pardon attorney. We look forward to new and more effective leadership in the pardon attorney's office, which over the past few years rarely recommended cases for presidential clemency.

To support petitioners and bring their cases to the attention of the President, the ACLU, together with the Federal Defenders, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has formed Clemency Project 2014, a working group to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who meet the new clemency criteria.

Today's announcement is historic news. Yet even with President Obama using his clemency power on a broader scale, he simply won't be able to commute every excessive sentence. The sentencing laws themselves are the problem.

Congress needs to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill of systemic reform which would make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more humane. Presidential commutations are essential to restore some degree of justice for individual prisoners currently serving unjust sentences, but only Congress can prevent the need for commutations tomorrow.

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Anonymous

Why not release people on principle rather than exacting a 10 year good time "pound of flesh" from those we think were sentenced unjustly. Typical of this administrations actions, falling fall from its words.

Anonymous

Why the need to exact a 10 year pound of flesh from people the DOJ thinks were sentenced unfairly? And why don't you post my comments?

Anonymous

I made legitimate comment yesterday on this article and the comment was never posted. Civil Liberties my a**

Anonymous

ACLU and all these associations ,
are you aware of what happens to those place under the probate system for guardianship ?
the WARD and the guardian are under these courts for the ward's lifetime.
Now exactly what crimes were committed and why the need for the supervision of these courts when those taking care of the WARD,who was formerly a free individual has no priors,no charges or crimes,no gang affiliations etc ? same for the guardian.
when will JUSTICE and constitutionality ARRIVE for them ?
Truly the ACLU et al are fully notified and aware of the illegal actions of these kangaroo courts, AKA probate,drive by guardianships open to all an any willing to pay to file,professional guardians and the docmented abuses from "disappearing" the WARD,isolating the WARD from friends and families,taking over under the law of course the WARD'S bank account,selling their property etc and all WITHOUT DUE PROCESS.

yeah,this is nice that convicted prisoners get a break but why no due process and authentic justice for the disabled,those declared incapacitated etc ?
they are crime free and on probation for their lifetime.

exactly what right and without due process,do these probate courts have to illegally operate and interfere in the lives of the law abiding who have concerned,responsible,crime free families and friends ?

Surely the ACLU has not been misinformed and still believes that these disability rights groups advocate or the the DOJ etc is concerned about violations here ?
LOL

Anonymous

You have to be joking. I don't remember ANY other president letting people out of prison the way he's doing. This is the first time I've ever heard of it.

I wonder how they determine when a person has "paid a debt to society."
Certainly they don't go by the actual victims of the crime, that's for sure.
The guy who shot me and caused me to experience a clinical death, from which I was saved by life flight and emergency medical technicians, was given 5 to 10 years for attempted murder for the part he did to me but I've had pain in my back and legs ever since it happened. It's gotten worse with time instead of better. If he did get out of jail because someone decided he had served all his time and "paid the debt to society," it still would not feel like he did if you asked me.
If he were sentenced to back pain from partial nerve damage for as long as I've been sentenced to it, that would feel fair to me.
I'm just saying I have no idea how they determine what "paying a debt to society" is going to mean for ANY crime, violent or nonviolent.

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