President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have announced a new plan to expand the availability of clemency for drug offenders. The change in policy is one of many that the Obama administration has taken to ease the harsh penalties faced by those charged with federal drug crimes in a system that encourages the acceptance of plea deals. Clemency is a step that prisoners can take to try to have their sentence reduced by executive order if they have not been successful in the appeals process.
The main point of this policy change, according to the attorney general, is to alter the length of sentences for those who were sentenced in an era of harsher mandatory minimum sentence policies and practices, to put them on par with people facing trial for those same crimes today. The expanded clemency efforts will not be limited to those cases, but will be available to a wide range of prisoners seeking some type of additional justice.
To achieve this goal, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will be increasing staffing levels and will consider applications from a wider range of applicants.
These efforts are somewhat in contrast to Obama’s earlier record on the issue, having issued on ten commutations and only 52 pardons while in office so far, a low level compared to other recent sitting presidents.
These and other reforms reflect the growing realization among lawmakers that the United States may employ overly harsh incarceration policies and that some additional leniency is needed in order to protect a fair justice system.
Source: Politico, “Holder: Obama to dramatically expand drug clemency,” Josh Gerstein, April 21, 2014.