Pubdate: Fri, 06 May 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Michael D. Shear


WASHINGTON - President Obama commuted the sentences of 58 nonviolent 
drug offenders on Thursday, the latest in a series of efforts to 
address what he has called the overly long and harsh sentences of an 
earlier era.

Most of the prisoners whose sentences will be cut short were serving 
decades behind bars for drug possession and distribution, the result 
of a crackdown on drug-related crimes in the 1980s and '90s that 
affected many African-Americans and other minorities.

The president has commuted the sentences of 306 individuals - more 
than his six most recent predecessors combined. But Mr. Obama said 
that his efforts alone were not enough. He urged members of Congress 
to keep working toward legislation that would change federal 
sentencing laws, particularly mandatory minimum sentences for 
nonviolent drug offenses.

"It just doesn't make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to 
serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison," Mr. Obama said in 
a statement.

"An excessive punishment like that doesn't fit the crime. It's not 
serving taxpayers, and it's not making us safer."

White House officials have said that Mr. Obama intends to keep 
working through a backlog of thousands of prisoners who have sought 
commutations of long sentences for drug-related crimes.

"As a country, we have to make sure that those who take 
responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to 
their communities," Mr. Obama said. "It's the right thing to do. It's 
the smart thing to do. And it's something I will keep working to do 
as long as I hold this office."

While sponsors of the legislation in Congress have won some new 
support in recent weeks, the effort remains stalled.

"While I will continue to review clemency applications," Mr. Obama 
said, "only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to 
federal sentencing."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom