Drug Policy Alliance: President Must Do More Before His Term Ends and Congress Needs to Act Now
Today, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 42 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 58 people in May 2016 and 61 individuals on March 30, 2016. To date, Obama has granted clemency to 348 individuals.
President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.
"It’s great to see the President step up the number of commutations he grants, but he should do so many more before his term ends," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The greatest relief for people behind bars will happen when Congress passes legislation. Right now there is legislation in the House and Senate to reduce mandatory minimums that would a significant impact on the prison population. Senator Mitch McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote now."
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand prison programming and early release, among other things. A similar bill, championed by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), was introduced in the House. Both bills have strong bipartisan support, and are awaiting floor action.
In the House, Paul Ryan, has promised that there will be a vote on criminal justice reform legislation. McConnell is yet to commit to action.
As the nation is calling for a more compassionate response to people struggling with addictions, advocates are pushing the Obama administration and Congress to right the wrongs of failed drug war tactics.
“I appreciate President Obama continuing to use his clemency powers to grant freedom to men and women who have been sentenced under archaic drug laws,” says 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 Rockefeller Drug Laws for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. “But there are thousands more who should be coming home and it’s up to Congress to stop talking and starting acting.”