Obama Commutes Sentences of 42 More Drug War Prisoners, Is it Enough?

By Seth Ferranti 06/06/16

Obama has now granted clemency to 348 drug war prisoners but there are still over 3,000 nonviolent offenders serving life in prison for drug charges. 

Obama Commutes Sentences of 42 More Drug War Prisoners, Is it Enough?

On Friday, in his latest round of commutations, President Obama cut the sentences of 42 more drug war prisoners to bring his total number of commutations to 348, a number greater than the past seven presidents combined. In his last year of office, the Obama administration has been doing what it can to set right the wrongs of the criminal justice system—but is it enough? With over3,000 inmates serving life sentences for non-violent crimes—79% of whom are serving life for drugs, releasing scores of prisoners at a time is hardly making a dent in the Bureau of Prisons' bloated inmate population. 

Obama’s efforts should be applauded, but more needs to be done. It could possibly be seen as a case of too little, too late—more than all the other presidents have done, but still not enough in the big scheme of things. With more than 2.3 million people locked up in the United States, we are still the world's leading incarcerator and that won’t change anytime soon unless the whole system is revamped on a monumental scale. More commutations will help—but wider, more substantial changes are needed.

“My commutation was denied, as were many others. All deserving,” Rob, who is doing a life sentence in the feds for a non-violent methamphetamine conspiracy in Arkansas, tells The Fix. “I don’t know how they decide who gets a commutation, and I’m happy for the men that are being released, but more needs to be done. Me and other men have been in here going on 20 years and more. We need some relief from these unfair sentencing policies. We need to go home to our families too.”

A lot of prisoners that were sentenced at the height of the War on Drugs are not benefitting from the changes in law and policies. With no retroactivity, their only relief is a commutation from the president. A commutation that the majority of prisoners aren’t getting—even though some are benefitting from Obama’s mercy.

“I’ve seen guys go home from this prison,” Rob tells The Fix. “It’s great. It provides hope for everyone in the system. But Obama could do way more. Congress can do way more. We are trapped in here. Serving unjust sentences. I sold drugs. I broke the law. I deserve to do time, but I have almost two decades in and my charge is non-violent.”

There are tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands of prisoners—that should be considered for release. The War on Drugs has fueled this sprawling industrial prison complex over the last 30 years, and slowly but surely we are tearing it down one brick at a time.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.