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Obama commutes sentences of drug offenders

President Barack Obama [official website] on Thursday commuted [press release] the sentences of eight inmates currently serving lengthly prison terms for crack cocaine offenses, citing the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) [text, PDF]. The FSA reduced significant disparities in convictions of drug offenses related to crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The former ratio of sentences passed in 1986 was 100-to-1 for crack versus powder cocaine and the FSA reduced the ratio to 18-to-1 for these offenses. Six of the eight individuals were serving life sentences and all the prisoners have been incarcerated for over 15 years. The President referred to those penalties as unduly harsh and said “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society.” President Obama had commuted only one other sentence in his five years in office.

In 2012 the US Supreme Court expanded [JURIST report] the application of the FSA to defendants who were sentenced after the act was in place, even if they were arrested before the act took effect. Similarly, in Thursday's press release President Obama urged Congress [Washington Post report] to consider passing legislation which would make the FSA retroactive for some offenders. In addition to delivering justice and equality for those convicted in an excessive manner, the overcrowding of prisons and the resulting strain on taxpayer funds was offered as a reason the law in this area must evolve.

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