President Obama Grants Clemency to Dozens of Drug Offenders

By Zachary Siegel 07/14/15

Yet 3,000 non-violent drug offenders remain in federal prison.

President Obama
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Dozens of federal inmates have been granted freedom on Monday in President Obama’s effort to correct what many see as unduly harsh punishments that far exceed the crime committed.

Federal sentencing practices have been criticized for funneling non-violent drug offenders into decades, or in some cases a lifetime, of incarceration. On Monday, Obama granted clemency to 46 men and women, all of whom have been subjected to antiquated draconian drug policies.

In a letter written by Obama addressed to the now free inmates he wrote, "I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances."

The president has now issued close to 90 commutations, the vast majority have been granted to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes.
While many rejoice and applaud the president for righting the blatant and inexcusable wrong, the 46-inmate release is small potatoes for the tens of thousands who applied for clemency, and the still 3,000 more non-violent drug offenders serving life in federal prisons across the country.

One applicant, Dicky Joe Jackson, made a pointed remark about the current system of criminal justice. He was caught selling methamphetamine to pay for his son’s bone marrow transplant. He told the Huffington Post "child molesters come in and out of here, rapists come in and out of here, murderers come in and out here," and yet there he is, still serving a life sentence without parole.

Yet Obama remains optimistic for those he has freed. In the same letter to those who received clemency, he wrote, "Remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so, you will affect not only your life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better."

Both Democrats and Republicans understand that the criminal justice system is need of reform. But commutations have remained a slow-process. The New York Times reported that the White House asked the Justice Department to speed up the sending over of applicants. There are tens of thousands that deserve their freedom.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.