FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s Drug Clemency Plan

by

On Monday, a White House official told the press that President Obama would be prepared to use his pardon power to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been jailed for nonviolent drug crimes. This sort of “mass release” has not been seen since the 1970’s when former President Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers.

As someone who received executive clemency from the governor of New York in 1997, I know personally the power of such an extraordinary act of mercy to people who have already served enormous amounts of time imprisoned under unjust drug laws, but are stuck in prison and have no legal remedies to regain their freedom. In 1985, I made the biggest mistake of my life when I passed an envelope containing four and a half ounces of cocaine to undercover officers for $500. For this mistake, I was sentenced to 15 years to life under New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. I served 12 years before then-Gov. George Pataki granted me freedom.

The new moves by the White House come after a January announcement that the Obama administration would taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases.

In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. Yet, despite his administration’s declared support for substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has passed bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that would reduce the federal prison population, decrease racial disparities, save taxpayer money, and reunite nonviolent drug law offenders with their families sooner. 

The Smarter Sentencing Act is the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades. It would cut federal mandatory minimums for drug law violations, so that nonviolent offenders serve less time behind bars and make crack/powder cocaine reform retroactive. It would also expand the ability of judges to use their own discretion when sentencing defendants, so that judges can consider the unique facts of each case and each individual before them.

As an advocate in support of the changes, this would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our broken criminal justice system. And I hope governors with clemency power at the state level follow the President’s lead and reunite more families.

With half a million people still behind bars on nonviolent drug charges, clearly thousands are deserving of a second chance.

Anthony Papa is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com

 

 

Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail