Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the sentences that certain individuals receive in connection with drug convictions. Earlier this year Attorney General Eric Holder announced that many who had previously been convicted of low level, nonviolent drug crimes would be released from prison. In addition, going forward, authorities were directed to concentrate on the violent drug offenders when it comes to prosecuting. There are likely many reasons for the change including overpopulated prisons and sentences that were too harsh for the crime.
Earlier this week President Obama took a different type of action, for at least one of the same reasons, which resulted in eight individuals being freed from prison. They had all been convicted of crack cocaine offenses prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 going into effect. Before 2010 individuals sentenced for crack cocaine offenses faced more harsh penalties than those who were arrested for the same crime, except involving the powder form of the drug. The federal sentences for that form of the drug were less severe than for the crack cocaine version.
All eight of the individuals whose sentences were commuted had spent a minimum of 15 years in prison.
Most would likely agree that the difference between the two sentences needed to be addressed. Prior to the change, the sentence for being convicted of having five grams of crack cocaine in one’s possession resulted in the same mandatory prison term that someone caught with 100 times as much powder cocaine, faced. The previous law had an unintended impact in another way as well. Because individuals of African-American decent were more likely to be in possession of crack cocaine and white people to be caught with it in powder form, African-American individuals were facing more time in prison.
There are many who would like for the president to grant clemency to more incarcerated individuals. Whether that will happen, remains to be seen.
Source: El Paso Inc., “Obama commutes sentences for 8 drug convictions,” Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2013