Sunday, April 3, 2016

President Obama Commutes 61 Prison Sentences

Last Wednesday, the sentences of 61 people who were serving for drug offenses were commuted by President Obama. To commute a sentence means to grant early release for prisoners. About 1/3 of the sentences commuted were life sentences. The commuted sentences were for inmates who had committed nonviolent drug offenses such as participating in the drug trade or acting as an accessory to the crime by not reporting someone who may have been involved.

Source: Department of Justice via

During the emphasis on the war on drugs of the mid 1990s, many sentences given to people involved were especially harsh. In the past generation, mandatory sentencing (when people who are convicted of certain crimes must be punished with a minimum of years in prison) of those involved in crimes was strongly emphasized- leading to many disproportionate sentences for inmates. 

President Obama wanted to give these inmates a second chance, believing they were also treated unjustly by our judicial system. 

"Reminded me of how out of proportion and counterproductive so much of our sentencing when it comes to our drug laws are, both at the federal level and the state level," says Obama when having lunch with a few of the inmates who were granted clemency. 

This is not the first time Obama has commuted sentences of inmates. Previous to the 61 he commuted last Wednesday, Obama had commuted 187 other individuals. Still, there are over 9000 pending petitions for clemency.

He continues, "The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws." 

Do you agree with Obama's argument that the concept of giving people a second chance is inherent in our democracy?
Do you feel like he is taking too large a role in pardoning sentences since he has pardoned more prison mates than the past 6 presidents combined?
Does offering clemency "fix" our judicial system or correctly right the wrongs of the past?


1 comment:

Justin Chan said...

Thank you Shu for your post. The argument about giving inmates a second chance is interesting because it relates to bigger political arguments, such as whether or not people should be criminalized for recreational drug use. My personal bias may start to unfold at this time, but I believe that if the drugs are used recreationally and the drug user has not been linked to criminal acts, he/she should not be placed into prisons for the number of years as specified in the mandatory sentencing that was created during the war on drugs in the mid 1990s. I personally believe that just because the past six presidents, though I wonder why the infographic avoided going further than just the past six presidents (probably because the creator wanted to spin the information/cherry pick), have not pardoned that many "prisoners," it doesn't mean that Obama is overstepping his power. In fact, his actions mark a shift in ideology. I believe that addiction has similar qualities to a disease; thus, drug user victims should not be criminalized as if they were murderers and rapists.

Another interesting angle to look at this situation is the funding issue. In the following infographic from CNN, it shows how much money 40 states have spent on education versus on prisons:
I believe that instead of criminalizing recreational drugs users, we should spend more money educating people on the dangers of drug usage.

Of course there are some situations in which people are mass distributors of drugs, yet they show no criminal record. I also believe that we should not criminalize these people simply due to the magnitude of their actions when in fact the principle of using drugs in the absence of other criminal acts is the same.

Do you guys believe that we should legalize more drugs on the nationwide scale?
Do you support the idea that we should put more money into education instead of punishment?
What are some other opinions on Obama's actions?