At President Barack Obama‘s request, the Justice Department will recommend non-violent drug offenders worthy of consideration to have their federal sentences reduced, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday.
The number could be in the hundreds, or even thousands.
“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Holder said in a video message posted on the Department of Justice’s website Monday, “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applications as possible for reduced sentences.”
In 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law legislation that reduced sentencing disparities for people convicted of offenses related to powder cocaine and crack cocaine.
“But there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said.
In December, the president commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who had been convicted of crack cocaine drug offenses before the 2010 law took effect.
“Because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” Obama said.
In his more than five years in office, Obama has granted fewer pardons and commutations than his immediate Democratic and Republican predecessors.
Holder’s announcement comes as the Senate is scheduled to begin consideration in the next few weeks of legislation, sponsored by liberal Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and conservative Republican Mike Lee of Utah, to give judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent crimes. Both said that long sentences for non-violent inmates isn’t just inhumane, but is too expensive.
“Our current system of mandatory minimum sentences is irrational and wasteful,” Lee said when the bill was introduced. “By targeting particularly egregious mandatory minimums and returning discretion to federal judges in an incremental manner, the Smarter Sentencing Act takes an important step forward in reducing the financial and human cost of outdated and imprudent sentencing policies.”