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New clemency expansion gives hope to man serving double-life-in-prison

In recent months, media outlets have reported stories about inmates serving draconian sentences as a result of mandatory minimum sentence laws passed a few decades ago. Real-life instances about offenders handed 20 year prison sentences for simple drug possession or other non-violent offenses without any regard to circumstances, age, or justice are commonplace.

Fortunately, the Obama administration realizes the unfairness of these laws and is taking action. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the pendulum swung a bit too far in the 80s and we need to deal with it. In a video released earlier this month, Holder announced Obama’s plans to expand clemency eligibility for a wider range of offenses, including drug crimes.

The initiative is aimed to restore “justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety.”

The Office of the Pardon Attorney, the agency tasked with handling the applications for clemency, has already been notified.

Getting the word out

Holder is encouraging media outlets to spread the word so that those incarcerated become aware of the new avenue. And it seems it has worked.

One man who was handed down a sentence that likely won’t allow him the opportunity for release until he is very old is holding onto hope for freedom as a result of Obama’s initiative.

His story

In 1991, a 23-year-old man was arrested for drug possession and distribution for mailing LSD to a friend. He was handed an automatic double-life-in-prison sentence without the possibility for parole under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. No discretion was allowed to be given for his circumstance, age, or any other factors.

Now, 20 years later, as inmates convicted of murder, rape, or other more violent crimes have served much smaller sentences and been released, this man still sits in prison. And there are so many more situations just like his.

But he and others have hope thanks to Obama’s clemency expansion. It remains to be seen how many will be set free. Recent estimates conclude that 2,000 additional inmates in federal prison will now be eligible to apply, although the number could change as applications start coming in.

Additional initiatives

Along with the clemency expansion, the Obama administration has put forth additional initiatives to help circumvent mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders.

For instance, Obama has urged federal prosecutors to opt for charges that would skirt these laws. Additionally, Holder recently urged Congress to pass the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” a law that would allow judges to use discretion in the sentences they hand down for non-violent federal drug crimes.

It remains to be seen what further measures will be proposed or actions Congress will take. In the meantime, inmates are encouraged to look into the clemency program to see if they qualify.

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