US President Barack Obama made the case [remarks] for overhauling the nation’s sentencing laws on Tuesday in front of top law enforcement officials at the 122nd Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police [official website] Conference and Exposition. The president argued that placing large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders in prison was neither fair nor an effective way of combating crime, stating that “it is possible for us to come up with strategies that effectively reduce the damage of the drug trade without relying solely on incarceration.” This comes in response to the Senate voting to move forward on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 [S 2132], which would cut back on mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders. Several of the police chiefs are concerned about reducing sentences, including Chief Will Johnson of Arlington, Texas, who noted that the government has been hesitant to assist with drug and mental health treatments as alternatives to incarceration. Obama now waits for Congress to pass the bill so that he can sign it into law.
In July Obama spoke at the NAACP Annual Convention and urged [JURIST report] Congress to reform the criminal justice system by enacting legislation that would enforce criminal laws fairly and reduce sentencing disparities. Earlier that week Obama commuted the sentences [JURIST report] of 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 2014 the US Department of Justice announced support for reducing the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons after the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST reports] in Burrage v. US to relax sentencing guidelines on drug dealers earlier that year. In 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union published a study [JURIST report] finding that 3,278 Americans are currently serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses. In 2010 Obama signed legislation that reduced the sentencing disparity [JURIST report] between crack and powder cocaine offenses from 100:1 to 18:1.