Monday, April 21, 2014

President Obama initiates the "Clemency Project 2014" (updated)

Liz Goodwin tells Barbara Scrivner's story to highlight a major initiative by President Obama. She's already served 20 years of a 30-year sentence for selling a few ounces of methamphetamine.
Thousands and thousands of people like Scrivner are serving punishingly long sentences in federal prison based on draconian policies that were a relic of the "tough on crime" antidrug laws of the '80s and '90s. Thirty years after skyrocketing urban violence and drug use sparked politicians to impose longer and longer sentences for drug crimes, America now incarcerates a higher rate of its population than any other country in the world. This dubious record has finally provoked a bipartisan backlash against such stiff penalties. The old laws are slowly being repealed.

Now, in his final years in office, Obama has trained his sights on prisoners like Scrivner, and wants to use his previously dormant pardon power as part of a larger strategy to restore fairness to the criminal-justice system. A senior administration official tells Yahoo News the president could grant clemency to "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people locked up for nonviolent drug crimes by the time he leaves office — a stunning number that hasn't been seen since Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s.
But Goodwin tells another story too - this one is about changing an embedded culture. You might have heard that so far Obama has commuted fewer sentences than any modern president.
According to former and current administration officials, the fault for this lay mostly at the feet of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a small corner of the Justice Department that sifts through thousands of pardon and commutation petitions each year. The pardon attorney, former military judge Ronald Rodgers, sends his recommendations of whether or not to grant the petitions to the Deputy Attorney General’s office, which then sends them on to the White House. The pardon attorney was recommending that the president deny nearly every single petition for a pardon or a reduced sentence, according to one senior official in the Obama administration.
The President has been meeting with Attorney General Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler to resolve this situation. And his intentions are clear.
Over a series of five or 10 discussions, the president said he wanted more recommendations for pardons and commutations getting to his desk. The president complained that the pardon attorney's office favored petitions from wealthy and connected people, who had good lawyers and knew how to game the system. The typical felon recommended for clemency by the pardon attorney was a hunter who wanted a pardon so that he could apply for a hunting license...

Last month, the president walked into the East Room to greet dozens of U.S. attorneys who traveled to the White House to discuss criminal-justice issues. The president told them he was expecting an influx of clemency applications for his new push, and warned that he wanted them to personally examine them all and not "reflexively" deny them.

"I take my clemency authority very seriously," he told them.
They are calling this new initiative "Clemency Project 2014." So I expect we'll be hearing much more about it soon.

Remember when President Obama said he had a pen and a phone that he was going to use? We're about to see how mighty that pen can be.

UPDATE: Today Attorney General Holder released this video announcing the "Clemency Project 2014."


  1. The President's idea is a good idea, it has been needed for a long time, there is no logical reason to lock up non-violence people for drug offenses for 30 years and more when people that kill people are not serving those sentences, put the murders in the prisons and put the other people in society and teach them to be productive, remember they already have one thing in their favor and that is non-violence, in this society today, non-violence it is needed.

  2. THANK GOD! Having done empowerment training programs inside women's facilities, it is clear that their relationships with men were at the root of much of their problems + inadequate defense. Sitting them in a circle and finding 3 generations of women (grandmother, mother & daughter) responsible for perhaps 100 children is a chilling experience. The gender and/or parental aspects are not well thought out nor applied appropriately for my taste.

    I wish the President and Atty Gen all the guidance in the world as they proceed, God knows there are so many entrapped souls yearning to be free and should be free.

  3. No one knows how happy this news makes me feel today, I know countless people who have basically wasted all of their youthful years and missed a shot at becoming potential productive citizens, My older brother is currently serving a 17 year federal sentence in Wisconsin, His name is Jamar Jones, his release date is 2028 for a drug offense he will be nearly 60 years old when he is released only to apply for Social Security. I pray that my brother is one of the people who will be selected for this clemency, I never understood why someone who kills or abuses children are released before someone who sold drugs.. I think each prisoner should have their time cut because this is just truly an injustice that has gone on too long..

    1. I'll join you in hoping that your brother is one that will benefit. Hang tough!


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