Last month President Obama reduced the sentences of six federal inmates from Texas during his administration’s most recent and final wave of clemency and commutation. To date, the President has issued more pardons than the last eleven combined. Of particular interest to the outgoing administration has been the collective plight of non-violent drug offenders, nearly a thousand of whom have seen their sentences reduced during Obama’s time in office. In all, the President has granted clemency to 1023 people since taking office, a majority of whom have been sentenced under mandatory minimum drug-laws which many argue are comparatively strict under the current code.
One of the most recent, and admittedly glaring, examples of these laws lies in the case of Texas man recently pardoned by the President after being sentenced to 30 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release for possession and intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. He was sentenced in the Southern District of Texas in the late 1990s. While House Counsel Neil Eggleston described the pardons as a second chance for those who have earned it. Others in the latest round of pardons include those sentenced for meth trafficking and production and crack cocaine distribution.
As the sun sets on the Obama administration, it leaves behind an undeniable legacy of compassion toward non-violent drug offenders; however, they also leave firmly in place the legal climate that ensnared these offenders and removed them from their families in the first place. It’s unclear, and will remain so for at least a year, whether President-elect Trump will wield the power of the pardon in a fashion similar to his predecessor; however, with a prison system that is overwhelmingly packed (some say “bloated”) with these offenders, the wisdom of the incarceration-first approach continues to be questioned on both sides of the aisle.