President Barack Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug-related crimes, a major step in his renewed push to reform the American criminal-justice system.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals,” Obama said in a video released on the White House Facebook page. “But the overwhelming majority and been sentenced to at least 20 years, 14 to life for nonviolent crimes. So their punishments didn’t fit the crime, and had they been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would have served their time.”
Obama highlighted “the fact that we spend over over $80 billion a year in incarcerating people who, often times, have only been engaged in nonviolent drug offenses.” Obama further noted while crime rates and incarceration rates are both falling, the U.S. continues to jail more people than any country in the world by a large margin.
“The president’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement. “We will continue to recommend to the president appropriate candidates for clemency, and we will continue to work with Congress on recalibrating our sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders.”
“I believe that, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances,” Obama said in the video, “and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Obama, who reportedly informed the 46 prisoners of today’s commutations in individual letters, has so far commuted the sentences of 89 people since he took office, more than his past four predecessors combined, the New York Times reports.
The president will speak in Philadelphia on Tuesday to outline a plan for further criminal-justice reform.
Photo via Pete Sousa/Wikimedia Commons (PD) | Remix by Max Fleishman