US President Barack Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences [press release] of 61 federal drug offenders in an effort to reform the sentencing of non-violent criminals. Obama believes the large number of low-level drug offenders facing longer sentences than would be granted under today’s laws are clogging up jails and burning through tax dollars. More than one-third of these individuals were facing life sentence. Altogether Obama has granted clemency to nearly 250 prisoners. Obama said [remarks]:
I believe America is a nation of second chances, and with hard work, responsibility and better choices, people can change their lives and contribute to our society. That’s why as long as I’m president, I’m going to keep working for a justice system that restores a sense of fairness, uses tax dollars more wisely, and keeps our communities safe.
To qualify prisoners must demonstrate good behavior in prison and have served at least 10 years of their sentence. These individuals must also have a criminal history clear from any gang connection, cartels or organized crime.
Obama has recently been striving to reform the harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenders. In October Obama made the case [remarks] for overhauling the nation’s sentencing laws in front of top law enforcement officials at the 122nd Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police [official website] Conference and Exposition. Obama 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.” 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.