Obama Commutes Sentences for Crack Cocaine Offenders

By Shawn Dwyer 12/20/13

Citing the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, the president’s actions were part of his administration’s efforts to reduce harsh sentences and ease prison overcrowding.

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On Thursday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight prison inmates who were serving lengthy sentences for a variety of crack cocaine offenses. Of the eight convicts, six were destined to serve life in prison. 

The move came after the Justice Department recommended the cases to the president. It was the first time that a group of prisoners saw their sentences reduced retroactively under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, a law passed with the intention of reducing punishment for those convicted of crack or powder cocaine offenses. “In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime,” Obama said. “Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness.”

Previously, President Obama had only commuted one prisoner, Eugenia Jennings, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2001. But under the 2010 law, the overwhelming sentencing disparity of crack and powder cocaine offenders had been greatly reduced even though prisoners convicted before the law took effect were still serving out their “unduly harsh” sentences. “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” said Obama. “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.”

Reactions from the other side of the aisle were conspicuously quiet, as the Republican party by and large declined to comment. Perhaps they were too busy defending the bigoted comments of Duck Dynasty’s patriarch.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.