Pubdate: Thu, 04 Aug 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Josh Lederman, The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday cut short the 
sentences of 214 federal inmates, including 67 life sentences, in 
what the White House called the largest batch of commutations on a 
single day in more than a century.

Almost all the prisoners were serving time for nonviolent crimes 
related to cocaine, methamphetamine or other drugs, although a few 
were charged with firearms violations related to their drug 
activities. Almost all are men, though they represent a diverse 
cross-section of America geographically.

Obama's push to lessen the burden on nonviolent drug offenders 
reflects his long-stated view that the U.S. needs to remedy the 
consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that put 
tens of thousands behind bars for far too long. Obama has used the 
aggressive pace of his commutations to increase pressure on Congress 
to pass a broader fix and to call more attention to the issue.

One of the inmates, Dicky Joe Jackson of Texas, was given a life 
sentence in 1996 for methamphetamine violations and for being a felon 
with an unlicensed gun. He told the ACLU in a 2013 report that a 
death sentence would have been preferable, adding, "I wish it were 
over, even if it meant I were dead."

Another recipient, Debra Brown of Tennessee, was convicted of selling 
cocaine in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years. Both Brown's and Jackson's 
sentences will now end Dec. 1, along with most of the rest of those 
receiving commutations Wednesday.

All told, Obama has commuted 562 sentences during his presidency - 
more than the past nine presidents combined, the White House said. 
Almost 200 of those who have benefited were serving life sentences.

"All of the individuals receiving commutation today - incarcerated 
under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws - embody the 
president's belief that 'America is a nation of second chances,' " 
White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.

Eggleston said Obama examines each clemency application on its 
specific merits to identify the appropriate relief, including whether 
the prisoner would be helped by additional drug treatment, 
educational programming or counseling.

He called on Congress to finally pass a criminal justice overhaul to 
bring about "lasting change to the federal system."

Presidents tend to use their powers to commute sentences or issue 
pardons more frequently at the end of their presidencies, and Obama 
administration officials said the rapid pace would continue during 
Obama's final months.

"We are not done yet," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. "We 
expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance 
through the clemency initiative."

Though there's broad bipartisan support for a criminal justice 
overhaul, what had looked like a promising legislative opportunity 
for Obama's final year has mostly fizzled.

As with Obama's other priorities, the intensely political climate of 
the presidential election year has confounded efforts by Republicans 
and Democratic in Congress to find consensus.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom