This week, President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 federal prisoners who had been convicted of drug-related crimes. Eleven of those commutations were issued to inmates in Florida federal prisons.
As the Miami Herald reports, these latest commutations brings the total number of federal prisoners to receive relief from the White House up to 248—more than the last six presidencies have issued combined. In the letter to each of the inmates, the president described his power to shorten sentences and grant pardons an embodiment of "the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance."
In an official blog post, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston stated that current administration is "committed to continuing to issue more grants of clemency as well as to strengthening rehabilitation programs." Eggleston also added, however, that no act of clemency by a president can "fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies."
A Shift in National Perspective
Many are looking to Obama's latest round of commutations as another sign of a shifting national perspective on how both the federal government and individual states classify drug offenses and punish those individuals convicted of them. While the 1990s "War on Drugs" brought stringent, life-altering criminal penalties to non-violent drug offenders, now government officials nationwide (from California, to Texas, to Florida) are re-evaluating how to police these offenses and process the accused.
As the Miami Herald points out, there has been recent bipartisan support for criminal justice reform in Washington, but resistance in Congress makes it unlikely that any of those measures will come to fruition this year. Still, officials from both sides of the aisle and countless advocates from around the country remain committed to addressing the issue. As President Obama put it at a recent dinner with former inmates that had received commuted sentences: "We're all imperfect. We all make mistakes."
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