Obama Wants to Commute More Drug Sentences

The administration is urging lawyers to help get low-level offenders out of prison faster

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The Obama administration is continuing its push to get low-level, non-violent drug offenders out of prison.

At a New York Bar Association meeting on Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole will ask lawyers to find such convicts to recommend to President Barack Obama for sentence commutation, the Justice Department said. This after Obama commuted the sentences of eight prisoners who were serving lengthy time for crack-cocaine offenses. Now the Justice Department is urging lawyers to find more.

“There is more to be done, because there are others like the eight who were granted clemency,” Cole will say, according to prepared remarks. “There are more low-level, non-violent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today.  This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will also begin advising prisoners on how to apply for commutations and connecting them with lawyers and organizations that can assist them further.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the administration’s move an “an important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system.”

The Obama administration has been reforming the criminal justice system’s handling of low-level drug offenders, particularly as it relates to crack-cocaine. In 2010, Obama signed a law reducing the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine convictions. In August, the administration issued guidance to judges on how to determine whether or not a defendant should serve a mandatory minimum sentence. The guidance can be applied to future and pending cases.

In order to qualify under the new sentencing guidelines, a defendant or inmate must be a low-level, non-violent offender with no connection to a large-scale cartel or organization.