At Liberty Podcast
At Liberty Podcast

Clemency Is One Answer to the War On Drugs

April 20, 2023

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This 4/20, we want to talk about a tool that can be used to address the horrific consequences of the war on drugs: clemency.

Throughout U.S. history, presidents, and governors have had the power to grant clemency, either by pardoning people of their crimes or reducing their sentences. Clemency can be used as a check on the criminal legal system, which often imposes unjustifiably harsh sentences and disproportionately criminalizes Black and Brown people, disabled people, and poor people. As Americans grapple with the racism and punitive spirit that fueled mass incarceration, more and more advocates have called on chief executives to use their power to confront racial injustice and end imprisonment that is no longer just or justified.

Few issues highlight the importance of clemency more than the unequal treatment of drug convictions. Of the 1.9 million people who are currently incarcerated in the U.S.,191,000 are in jail or prison for drug related convictions. Today, many of these convictions would be erroneous, as many states adopt public health approaches to drug use and move towards legalizing marijuana in particular.

Today, we are going to look at the redemptive hope clemency can provide, both to people and the criminal legal system as a whole. We are joined by Kemba Smith, who received clemency in 2000 and has been a prominent criminal justice reform advocate ever since, and Cynthia Roseberry, Acting Director of the ACLU’s Justice Division and key leader on Clemency 2014, a historic initiative of more than 4,000 lawyers who represented over 36,000 clients as they went through the presidential clemency process.

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