President Obama Expected to Grant Clemency to More Federal Prisoners in Coming Weeks

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President Obama is expected to grant clemency to another group of drug offenders in the coming weeks, part of his ongoing effort to provide relief to inmates in federal prisons who were sentenced to harsh terms in the nation’s war on drugs.

The White House will also be holding an event on March 31 called “Life after Clemency,” that will include former inmates and their attorneys, along with some prison reform advocates. The White House gathering, which is not open to the press, will focus on one of the president’s centerpiece criminal-justice initiatives and will include a discussion on “ways to improve paths to reentry,” according to the invitation.

Spokeswomen from the White House and the Department of Justice declined to comment.

A report released this week by the independent U.S. Sentencing Commission found that nearly half of offenders released from prison or placed on probation in 2005 were rearrested within eight years for either a new crime or another violation of their probation or release. But recidivism rates dropped to 33.8 percent for offenders in the lowest criminal history category, which is the one that covers most of the non-violent inmates given clemency by Obama.

The study, which Chief Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission, said was “groundbreaking” in its breadth and duration, also found that offenders released prior to age 21 had the highest rearrest rate, at 67.6 percent, compared to 16 percent for those offenders over 60 years of age at the time of release.

Today, prisoners 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their ranks having swelled by 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013.

In the spring of 2014, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — who called mandatory-minimum drug sentences “draconian” — launched an initiative to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison.

To qualify, prisoners had to have served at least 10 years of their sentence, and have no significant criminal history and no connection to gangs, cartels or organized crime. They must have demonstrated good conduct in prison. And they also must be inmates who probably would have received a “substantially lower sentence” if convicted of the same offense today.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Sari Horwitz