Pubdate: Wed, 01 Apr 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Darlene Superville, the Associated Press


Nonviolent Drug Offenders Affected

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday shortened the 
prison sentences of nearly two dozen drug convicts, including eight 
serving life in prison, in an act the White House said continues 
Obama's push to make the justice system fairer by reducing harsh 
sentences that were handed down under outdated guidelines.

The effort could lead Obama to grant clemency more often as his 
second and final term in office winds down.

In December, Obama issued his first round of commutations under new 
guidelines that were put in place to cut costs by reducing the 
growing prison population and grant leniency to nonviolent drug 
offenders sentenced to years-long terms of confinement away from 
society. A commutation leaves the conviction in place and ends the punishment.

Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, said many of the 22 people 
whose federal sentences will be cut short by Obama's action would 
already have served their time and paid the debt they owed society 
had they been sentenced under current laws and policies.

"Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, 
they served years - in some cases more than a decade - longer than 
individuals convicted today of the same crime," Eggleston said in a 
post on the White House blog. The 22 individuals were sentenced 
between 1992 and 2006.

Eggleston said Tuesday's commutations underscore Obama's "commitment 
to using all the tools at his disposal to bring greater fairness and 
equity to our justice system."

Obama has now approved a total of 43 commutations during more than 
six years in office. Eggleston noted that Obama's predecessor, George 
W. Bush, had commuted 11 sentences during his two terms.

In a letter, Obama urged each individual to take advantage of the 
second chance he is giving them. The White House said it was the 
first time Obama had sent such letters.

"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the 
potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the 
most of this opportunity," he wrote. "It will not be easy, and you 
will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. 
Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances.

"But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices," Obama said.

The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for less 
stringent drug sentences, praised the commutations. "The president's 
actions today are welcome," said Michael Collins, policy manager at 
DPA's office of national affairs. Collins called on Congress to "act 
quickly on substantive sentencing reform," adding, "It's time to 
rectify the U.S.'s embarrassing record on mass incarceration."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom