On Wednesday, President Obama granted clemency to the first eight federal prison inmates convicted of non-violent drug offences. The clemency program is a common sense way to reduce the federal prison population and may serve as a model for the individual states to follow. By definition, clemency is the act of ending an inmate’s prison sentence while retaining the original conviction.
Under the new clemency plan, prospective inmates must meet the following criteria:
- Have already served at least 10 years in prison
- Have a nonviolent history
- Have a record of good behavior while incarcerated
- Have no major criminal conviction
- Have a conviction which is handed down today would have resulted in a lighter sentence
The clemency program applies to non-violent non-drug offenses as well. It may well be that the president’s remaining two years in office will be marked by a sharp increase in presidential clemencies. Federal drug laws enacted in the 1980s to combat the rising epidemic of crack cocaine resulted in Blacks getting substantially longer prison sentences than people convicted of using other opiates. Some civil rights leaders have charged racism in the stiffer sentences that African-Americans received for crack cocaine use. However, it bears mentioning that it was at the behest of Black communities across the nation that the stiffer laws were enacted. At the time, the threat of crack cocaine was so severe that communities sought tougher laws as a means of reducing the spread of the drug. Sadly, the laws ended up having unintended consequences if you ask Lee G. Lovett.