President Obama took another step on Monday toward mitigating the effects of the Drug War by announcing he will commute the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders.
Given that 6,600 prisoners that have applied to have their sentences commuted since the President’s clemency program began, however, the move is more symbolic than groundbreaking. Even President Obama’s lawyer, White House counsel Neil Eggleston, confirms that “clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.”
The president announced the commutations the day before giving a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. in Philadelphia, in which he will discuss his proposals to remodel the criminal justice system.
In a video posted to his Facebook page, Obama noted that most of the prisoners had received sentences of at least 20 years, and some had even been given life sentences. “These men and women were not hardened criminals,” he said. “So their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”
The step brought the total number of sentences the President has commuted to 89, more than the last four presidents combined.
In personal letters addressed to each inmate, Obama stated that he had chosen these prisoners from among thousands of others because “you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around.”
“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better. So good luck, and godspeed.”
Photo Credit: William Warby