At least 95 federal prisoners got the best Christmas present they could have ever asked for – President Obama commuted their sentences and they will be released sometime in April of 2016. Of these 95 people, almost every single one of them was in prison on a drug offense that should never have landed them a sentence like they got.
Over the years, past presidents have done very little with their power to release prisoners – President Obama being the one to commute nearly 200 individuals during his last 7 years as president of the United States.
While many don’t agree with the Obama administration, I think if there is one thing they’re doing absolutely right, it has got to be this.
Most of these individuals were convicted and sent to federal prison as a part of the failed War on Drugs. Looking back 20 years, the charges that would have been brought on these people, if prosecuted now, would never land these people with a 25 years to life sentence.
We’ve come to a point where it’s hard to deny that the War on Drugs didn’t work. It’s pretty evident that people who get hooked on hard drugs like cocaine, crack, heroin and meth need treatment – not jail or prison.
Most people who go to jail or prison over a drug offense will be rearrested for the same or a similar offence because they never go the help that they need. Sending them to jail isn’t helping them at all – addiction is a serious problem that has only gotten the attention it deserves in more recent years.
Of these 95 prisoners, many of them were serving unrealistically long sentences for charges related to marijuana that were simply blown out of proportion because of the time period in which they were arrested. There is a total of 40 individuals who no longer have to face a life sentence for a drug problem that needed treatment, not jail.
A letter from President Obama was sent out to each of these individuals and it reads:
“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around,” he wrote. “Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change….But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so you will affect not only your life, but the lives of those around you. You will also influence, by your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their second chance in the future.”
With one year to go in his second term, hopefully President Obama manages to help more individuals in a situation like this. The criteria for prisoners to qualify included that they needed to have served at least 10 years of their sentence, have no other significant criminal history and would have received a lighter sentence if it has been prosecuted with today’s laws.
This is a major step forward – though there are still probably thousands of wrongfully imprisoned people waiting in hopes of a commute, this is still a great start.