It appears that the clemency push initiated by the Obama Administration last year is expected to continue. Beginning with Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments to the American Bar Association last summer about changing the way federal prosecutors handle low-level drug possession cases, to the first set of inmates being freed after decades in prison, it seems that lawmakers are committed to righting the wrongs created through the federal government’s “War on Drugs” in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The harsh, long-term sentences have arguably torn apart families and left a generation of young minorities (particularly African Americans) without fathers. They have also been known to take away breadwinners and resign families to poverty.
After years of consternation that drug sentencing has been unfair for non-violent offenders, they will finally be able to apply for clemency. According to a recent WashingtonPost.com report, thousands of federal inmates have submitted applications. The Department of Justice is set to evaluate the applications.
To apply for clemency, offenders must be non-violent, have served at least 10 years in prison and have had demonstrated good conduct while behind bars.
Even with these qualifying elements, the National Association of U.S. Attorneys is skeptical about the program. In a letter written to the U.S. Sentencing Committee, the attorneys explained that the clemency program represented a “grave danger.” They indicated that between 2005 and 2010, 77 percent of offenders were arrested again within 5 years.
It remains to be seen how many people will be released, but it appears to be a step in the right direction for low level offenders who have spent a large portion of their lives behind bars.