White House aids say that soon, President Barack Obama will issue executive orders freeing dozens of nonviolent drug offenders who are serving time in federal prison. More than 30,000 federal inmates applied for clemency when the Justice Department put out a call last year. Obama is expected to use his clemency power to commute at least 80 of their sentences—that’s more than any president has in nearly 50 years.
The commutations are part of a broader effort to move beyond the tough drug laws that policymakers have put into place over the last 30 years, which carry what critics call excessive mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and have been proven to disproportionately impact black men. In fact, criminal justice reform is one issue that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.
Last July, the United States Sentencing Commission recently revised guidelines for drug offenders, which retroactively made 40,000+ inmates eligible for early release. The first inmates will be released under the new guidelines in November. On average, they will see two years knocked off their sentences and will have served approximately nine years.
“It’s a time when conservatives and liberals and libertarians and lots of different people on the political spectrum” have “come together in order to focus attention on excessive sentences, the costs and the like, and the need to correct some of those excesses,” Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel who recommends clemency petitions to Mr. Obama, told The New York Times. “So I think the president sees the commutations as a piece of that entire process.”