In August, alone, Obama has commuted 325 sentences, making a sum total of 673 commutations during his presidential tenure. The second batch in August answered 111 drug war prisoner petitions for clemency. Obama is intent in reversing the hardline impact of the “War on Drugs.”
On June 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one” and advocated for additional federal resources to help prevent addiction and rehabilitate addicts. This led to the “War on Drugs” – a term popularized by the media during Nixon’s presidency – which has churned out severe sentencing for minor and nonviolent drug charges.
With the DEA pushback against marijuana law reform and the current heroin and opioid epidemic, Obama’s push to correct draconian sentencing for drug charges is often fodder for his critics, while others say it’s long overdue.
As quoted by The Fix, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston released the following statement:
“Today’s 111 commutation grants underscore the President’s commitment to using his clemency authority to provide a second chance to deserving individuals. To date, President Obama has granted 673 commutations: more commutations than the previous ten presidents combined. More than one-third of the President’s commutation recipients, or 232 individuals, were serving life sentences.”
While these may just look like numbers, they are lives. The president’s clemency is giving many former drug users and dealers a second chance at life.
“We must remember that these are individuals—sons, daughters, parents, and in many cases, grandparents—who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance,” said Eggleston. “They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today. For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance.”
Sharanda Jones is one former drug dealer who’s been given a second chance. Jones was convicted of conspiring to traffic 23.92 kilos of crack cocaine. While federal sentencing guidelines indicated a maximum sentence of around 24 years, prosecutors pushed for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
As quoted by CNN, Jones remarked, “I remember him saying ‘I’m sentencing you to life’ and I was just numb. I couldn’t understand it. I was just blank. My body was numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t process it at all.”
After serving 17 years in prison, Jones was one of the lucky ones to be granted clemency by President Obama.
Obama has made more of an effort than any recent president to repair our broken criminal justice system, but it still needs a lot of work. Prisons continue to cultivate a successful drug economy, while ex-cons are confronted with a stigma once they leave prison. And the drug problem in America continues.
The term itself – the “War on Drugs” – suggests that we can conquer drugs through a campaign of prohibition and police/military aid. The initial campaign included a log of drug policies with the intent to combat the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal psychoactive drugs.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which calls for an end to the eradication of drugs and the incarceration of addicts and dealers, the United States spends $51 billion every year on these initiatives.
Non-violent offenders with disproportionate sentences are a priority to Obama, who will look to continue granting clemency until he leaves office.
“While I expect that the President will continue to grant commutations through the end of this administration,” Eggleston added in his statement, “the individualized nature of this relief highlights the need for bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, including reforms that address excessive mandatory minimum sentences.”