Press Release  | 12/19/2013

President Obama to Commute Sentences for 8 in Crack Cocaine Cases

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Drug Policy Alliance: President Praised; Many Others Deserve Similar Relief

Congress Should Reform Mandatory Minimum Laws

Today President Obama is expected to commute the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. Mr. Obama, said the eight men and women had been sentenced under an “unfair system,” including the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses that was reduced to 18:1 by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

This year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. Yet, despite his administration’s declared support for substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents. 

Mr. Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences.

“It’s wonderful news that Obama has granted clemency to these individuals. We hope this is the just the beginning of the President using his executive powers to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system,” said Anthony Papa, Media Relations Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. “I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families.”

In a statement, Mr. Obama said “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance said, “Kudos to President Obama for commuting these eight people. But shame on the President for not commuting many more. With over 100,000 people still in federal prison on non-violent drug charges, clearly thousands more are deserving of the same freedom. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent drug offenses.”

Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Anthony Papa 646-420-7290

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