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Obama Plans To Expand Clemency Criteria, Thousands Of Drug Offenders Could Apply

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Department of Justice will be releasing new clemency criteria guidelines aimed at potentially releasing thousands of nonviolent drug offenders convicted of using crack cocaine.

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” said Holder. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, a measure aimed at reducing the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack cocaine and the powdered form of the drug.

The law is meant to foster more equitable justice by removing racial bias from sentencing — as crack cocaine had much stiffer sentencing guidelines than the powdered form of the drug, and the African American community was disproportionately impacted by this double standard.

But Congress did not make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said. “This is simply not right.”

Last December, Obama commuted the sentences of eight crack cocaine offenders dealing with this inequity in our justice system, but according to the Los Angeles Times, advocates say as many as 7,000 more are in the same situation.

Obama also recently commuted the sentence of an inmate serving an extra 3.5 years due to a typo, demonstrating “the importance of clemency as a fail-safe mechanism,” as White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said last week. According to The Washington Post, Ruemmler said Obama has instructed the Department of Justice to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applicants.

Holder has said that to prepare for the expected flood of clemency applications, the DOJ is planning to assign dozens of new lawyers to its small pardon attorney’s office.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

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