Last month, the president used his executive powers to commute the sentences of individuals convicted of federal offenses related to crack cocaine. Each of the eight inmates whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life imprisonment and had served a minimum of 15 years imprisonment so far. This gesture was both concrete and serves as a symbolic step towards even greater reform of sentencing for federal drug crimes than the Obama administration has already taken.
These sentence commutations were particularly significant as they are the first acts of retroactive relief granted to inmates who likely would have been sentenced to far shorter terms of imprisonment had they been charged with their crimes under current and reformed drug policies. As the president recently explained, each of the inmates affected by these commutations was sentenced under the grossly unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity that affected individuals convicted of crack versus powder cocaine offenses until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity.
The president noted that, “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.”
The Obama administration has taken numerous steps over the past several years to right drug sentencing inequalities and to reduce the federal prison population. This latest round of commutations signals further commitment to this cause by the administration.
Source: The New York Times, “Obama Commutes Sentences for 8 in Crack Cocaine Cases,” Charlie Savage, Dec. 19, 2013