Earlier in the month, President Obama pardoned eight people convicted on federal drug charges. Saying they had been convicted and sentenced on crack cocaine charges under an "unfair system," many of the former drug offenders had been sentenced to life in prison. Unfortunately, it seems there are approximately 3,000 people who will die in federal prisons after receiving life without parole. Though there are some people who truly should spend the rest of their lives in prison, these offenders were convicted of nonviolent crimes.
Anyone in New Hampshire who has been paying attention to the changes the Obama administration has been making to the federal drug crimes system may have heard of Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that federal prosecutors would modify how they charge defendants. Though this will help avoid some of the federal mandatory minimum sentences, there is still much to be done to create a more just criminal justice system.
It boggles the mind that someone could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for playing a minor role in a drug ring, but that is exactly what happened to many of those pardoned by Obama.
One man, only 19 years old at the time of his arrest, has spent the past 20 years in prison. He had a relatively minor role as a street dealer in a much larger crack ring, but when he was charged, he was held responsible for every last gram of cocaine sold by the ring. Initially offered a plea deal, he wanted to try to clear his name at trial. It cost him the past 20 years and could have cost him the rest of his life had he not been pardoned.
While it is great that the president has pardoned these offenders, commuting sentences and pardoning people is not the long-term solution the American justice system needs.
Source: The Huffington Post, "Obama Commutes Sentences Of 8 Inmates Convicted Of Crack Offenses," Saki Knafo, Dec. 19, 2013