One of the signature accomplishments of the Obama administration has been a greater focus on the consequences of America’s decades-long drug war. In addition to changing sentencing policies and guidelines with the help of former Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama has made use of his executive powers to reduce unreasonable sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Recently, President Obama issued 78 pardons and 153 commutations for people convicted of a variety of non-violent offenses. In total he has issued over 1,300 acts of clemency for people convicted of non-violent offenses. Most of the people who received these demonstrations of mercy were convicted of drug crimes and received unduly harsh sentences as a result of legislation passed in an effort to get tough on crime. Examples include possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine.
During his eight years in office, President Obama has commuted the sentences of more offenders than the previous 11 presidents combined.
Many of these former offenders have found jobs and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. This shows that smart criminal justice reforms benefit everyone – not just those who have been granted clemency.
President Obama has shown, by word and deed, that sentencing reform is an important issue that can improve lives and strengthen communities. But no one president can solve such a large problem alone. Now that President Obama is leaving office and a very different administration is taking the reins, it is up to all of us to ensure that criminal justice reform remains a high-priority issue.