[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Monday granted [statement, video] commuted sentences to 46 drug offenders in what he said was part of an effort by his administration to remedy the unfairness of the criminal justice system. In his statement, Obama noted that the majority of the men and women receiving clemency were convicted under previous drug laws that imposed stringent consequences for non-violent drug offenses. Obama also emphasized that the sentences imposed upon the offenders, a minimum of 20 years and up to life imprisonment, were disproportionate to the crimes committed, and that had they been sentenced today, most would have already completed their sentences. In a personal letter [text, PDF] addressed to the recipients of the commutations, Obama stated that the individuals’ applications for commutation was granted because they demonstrated the potential to turn their lives around. As of Monday, Obama has granted 89 commutations and 64 pardons.
In 2012 the US Supreme Court expanded [JURIST report] the application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) [materials, PDF] to defendants who were sentenced after the act was in place, even if they were arrested before the act took effect. In 2013 President Obama commuted [JURIST report] the sentences of eight drug offenders, and in doing so, 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. Earlier this month Human Rights Watch urged [advocacy website, JURIST report] the US to adopt the SAFE Justice Act, a US criminal justice reform bill introduced in June, that could better protect prisoners’ rights [HRW report] and increase fairness in federal prison sentencing by enacting reforms to federal sentencing statutes, including the modification of mandatory minimums to exclude people in drug trafficking offenses with minimal roles.