Convicted Trafficker Rejects Obama's Commutation Offer

By McCarton Ackerman 10/21/16

The man was sentenced for drug trafficking in 2002 and is scheduled to be sent home in 2022.

Convicted Trafficker Rejects Obama's Commutation Offer

President Obama has commuted long sentences for hundreds of non-violent drug offenders, but one of them has become the first to decide he’d rather stay in prison than have his freedom.

USA Today reported last week that Arnold Ray Jones, 50, formally turned down the opportunity for freedom. He was sentenced for drug trafficking in 2002 and is scheduled to be sent home in 2022, but could be released for good behavior in April 2019. With Obama’s commutation, he could have been released in August 2018 on the condition that he complete a nine-month residential drug treatment program through the Bureau of Prisons.

But on the Department of Justice’s list of commuted inmates, Jones’ name includes the note “condition declined, commutation not effectuated." His reason for declining the commutation is still unknown and the White House hasn’t formally commented on the matter.

Court records show that Jones never found drug treatment programs to be helpful. Prior to his arrest, he was a regular crack cocaine user. It’s unclear whether he accessed treatment programs during his time behind bars.

Obama has granted commutations to 774 people during his two terms, more than the past nine U.S. presidents combined. The commutations have been granted under his Smart on Crime initiative, which aims to reduce prison overcrowding by reducing the current U.S. prison population of more than 2.2 million inmates.

“It just doesn’t make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison. An excessive punishment like that doesn’t fit the crime. It’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not making us safer," the president wrote in a post on Medium in May. "As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And it’s something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office."

Although choosing prison over drug treatment is certainly rare, it’s not entirely uncommon. Some inmates have rejected drug court programs because their time in the system would be extended by months or even years, instead leading them to opt for far more restrictive, but shorter sentences.

In the celebrity world, Teen Mom star Amber Portwood asked a judge in June 2012 to release her from rehab and impose her original five-year sentence, which stemmed from failing a drug test while on probation for possession of drugs. Portwood told the judge she hated the program and had been abusing drugs while in it. She was released for good behavior after just 17 months and has remained sober ever since.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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