Carrie Dann, NBC News, December 19, 2013
President Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of eight individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses.
In a statement, Obama said the commutation “is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness” and noted that he signed legislation in 2010 to narrow the disparity between penalties for crimes related to powder and crack cocaine.
Obama has pushed to change criminal justice policy to correct what his administration calls unfairness in sentencing and to keep down the cost of lengthy incarcerations for non-violent crimes.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” he said of inmates sentenced before the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. “Instead, 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 also called on Congress to pass pending legislation that would make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive for some offenders.
Each of the eight offenders has served over 15 years in prison for the drug crimes.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund praised the decision in a statement.
“The president’s ability to commute sentences is an extraordinary power, and his decision to exercise that power in these cases sends a powerful signal that the White House is committed to reducing mass incarceration and working to restore fairness to the criminal justice system,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the group’s president.