Yesterday President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 58 people serving prison time for federal drug-related offenses. This follows the commutation of 61 individuals on March 30th of this year, and 162 individuals in 2015. Each of the individuals receiving a pardon were in prison for a nonviolent drug offense, many victims of the disparity between crack and powdered cocaine.
“The President is using his constitutional power, but he can only do so much,” says Michael Collins, deputy director at Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs. “There is legislation in the Senate that would reduce mandatory minimums and have a greater impact on the prison population, and Leader McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote.”
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal “safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand prison programming and early release, among other things. A similar bill, championed by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), was introduced in the House. Both bills have strong bipartisan support, and are awaiting floor action.
“President Obama continues to show compassion by granting freedom to those men and women who have been sentenced under archaic drug laws,” says Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. “It is my hope that Congress and the Governors of states follow.”