The #ClemencyNow campaign has requested President Obama to grant pardon to 50% of prisoners by January 2017.
WASHINGTON ― A group of former federal prisoners who had their sentences commuted by President Barack Obama are urging the president to do as much as he can for other drug defendants before the end of his presidency, the Huffington Post report.
The initiative #cut50, which aims to reduce the U.S. prison population by 50 percent, held several events last week in support of its #ClemencyNOW campaign, which seeks to encourage Obama to grant an “unprecedented” number of clemencies before President-elect Donald Trump take office in January. The group held a vigil in front of the White House and delivered petitions to the Justice Department in support of the initiative.
In the video above, The Huffington Post interviewed Sharanda Jones, Kenneth Kemp and Jason Hernandez. All three were sentenced to life in federal prison, but had their sentences commuted by the president. They spoke about the message they want Obama to hear now.
https://t.co/BTQYWwkQZK Oh boy, a bunch of crackheads/dealers back on the street. Like LE doesn’t have enough of them to deal with.
— Missy Blue (@Missyblueblue) November 23, 2016
“Whoever is in there come Jan. 20, if they’re still in there, they haven’t received clemency, they’re probably going to die in there. You’re their last hope,” Hernandez said.
But criminal justice reform advocates say, even with this new round of commutations, the clock is still ticking, Buzzfeed states.
“We’re glad that there have been that many [commutations], but there’s still so many men and women who are in there serving unjust sentences,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director of #cut50, an organization working to cut the prison population in half. “In light of the election, we don’t know what the future under a Trump administration is going to be for some of these people.”
According to the list provided by the White House, nearly all of the inmates granted commutations on Tuesday were serving lengthy prison sentences for drug-related crimes. Many of them are now set to be released after Obama’s term ends.
Already advocates had been looking to Obama to take action on federal prison sentences before he leaves office, especially since President-elect Trump has not expressed interest in taking up the clemency cause.
And for people invested in criminal justice reform, time is running out with a president who is a “known quantity” on these issues, said Rachel Barkow, an NYU Professor of Law and member of the US Sentencing Commission, in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
President Barack Obama reduced the sentences of 79 more inmates Tuesday, marking his 1,000th commutation — a milestone for his record-setting effort to reverse harsh sentences, according to CNN.
Obama plans to grant commutations throughout the rest of his presidency, White House counsel Neil Eggleston on a call with reporters, and administration officials are moving swiftly to go through the thousands of remaining petitions.
The total commutations are now more than the previous 11 presidencies combined, according to the White House. Of those total commutations, 342 were serving life sentences and 839 have been granted this year.
Obama has previously said he hopes to bring the existing sentences of inmates more in line with current laws, which have been relaxed after an era of strict mandatory minimums mostly related to non-violent drug crimes.
Sentence reform advocates feel a sense of urgency because they doubt the Trump administration will continue Obama’s initiative to provide relief to nonviolent drug offenders, some of whom are serving four or more times the sentence they would receive today, according to administration officials.
“(Trump) is a law and order president and many of the people seeking clemency were incarcerated under law and order presidents,” said Cynthia Roseberry with the Clemency Project. “I’d hope he would be able to continue (the initiative) but based on statements he has made I’m not positive that he will.”
Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions has criticized Obama’s clemency initiative in the past, saying “The President is playing a dangerous game to advance his political ideology,” adding, “Unfortunately, history and common sense tell us that rushing to release federal prisoners will have long-lasting, harmful consequences, particularly for our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
Obama administration officials insist they are not doing anything differently, such as speeding up the petition review process, out of concern for the next administration.
“The urgency doesn’t come as a result of the election, the urgency comes as part of the initiative being a priority under President Obama,” one administration official said, adding, “this isn’t a short process.”
As of early November, there were 12,405 petitions for the Department of Justice and the White House to review. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said Tuesday the department is on pace to review all 6,300 petitions from drug offenders submitted by August 31 — a deadline announced before the election.
Following criticism earlier this year by sentence reform advocates the process was too slow, new procedures were put in place several months ago to speed up the review of the thousands of petitions submitted to the Justice Department.
“We are processing more petitions than ever before — without compromising our duty to carefully consider each petition and keep the public’s safety foremost in our recommendation,” acting pardon attorney Robert A. Zauzmer said in a blog post.
This year alone, Obama has granted 839 petitions. Administration officials point out that’s more than most presidents have done during an entire presidency.
Eggleston told reporters it is ultimately up to the President to decide how many sentences he wants to commute.
“The President looks at each one on an individual basis and then decides. I think we will keep going until the end and we’ll continue to review,” he said.
The number of sentences commuted by President Obama is laudable. But juxtaposing that to the number of prisoners serving life jail terms, those pardoned are relatively smaller. Moreover, most these prisoners happen to be Black people; some of which are innocent. Systematic racism in the U.S. judicial system is something we must deal with completely. It is destroying our society.