DOJ To Make Sweeping Changes to Clemency Process

By Paul Gaita 04/24/14

The expanded criteria will allow President Obama to potentially reduce the number of prisoners serving long sentences for federal drug convictions.


The Department of Justice is expected to make significant changes to the clemency process for federal drug offenders later this week.

The proposal will expand the criteria for the clemency process and allow President Barack Obama to consider requests from a wider selection of individuals eligible for the process. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the changes will draw “thousands of additional applications for clemency,” which the DOJ will most likely meet by enlisting the aid of dozens of lawyers.

This overhaul of the Office of the Pardon Attorney is considered a significant part of Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which aims to reduce the number of prisoners serving long sentences for federal drug laws. The changes are part of Holder's long-term goal of strengthening the criminal justice system.

Obama’s presidency has drawn sharp criticism for the low number of pardons granted to individuals convicted of drug crimes. Of the 39 pardons he has granted since 2010, only 11 of these were for drug-related sentences, and as the Huffington Post noted, that group totals  just one more than the number of turkeys the President has excused from becoming Thanksgiving dinner during the same period of time.

Obama commuted the sentences for eight of the 11 in 2013, a move seen by government observers as the beginning of the president’s policy shift on clemency. “We need to come up with ways in which we identify people who are worthy of clemency, and not in the way I think we have traditionally done,” Holder said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.