During the last several decades, one of the largest criticisms of the American criminal justice system has been the excessive sentences handed down to nonviolent drug offenders. Many of those offenders were sentenced under draconian laws that required mandatory minimum sentences, some of which included life sentences, that were enacted during the nation’s “war on drugs”.
In an effort to remedy what is seen by many as an injustice, President Obama reduced the sentences of hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders during his last week in office, which concluded with the commutation of 330 sentences on his last day in office. Those 330 commutations were the most ever in a single day, and brought President Obama’s total number of clemencies to 1,715 – the most by any president ever. Of those commutations, President Obama granted commutations to 568 offenders serving life sentences.
Many of the drug offenders that received the harshest sentences were convicted of crimes that involved crack cocaine. Critics have argued for years that the sentences involving crack cocaine were disproportionate to those involving powdered crack cocaine, and often affected African-Americans the most.
President Obama’s actions have been applauded by many including activists, politicians, and the thousands of attorneys who have offered assistance to the administration on a pro bono basis. As Julie Stewart, founder and chairman of the board of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, stated “It’s fantastic that the president is using his last days in office to continue to grant clemency to deserving prisoners.”
The former President’s actions underscore several important points. First, the current sentencing guidelines can result in unjust and disparate sentences for crimes involving nonviolent drug offenders. More importantly, it recognizes that oftentimes drug users are not acting in a rational manner when they commit crimes involving drug use. As the prevalence of drug use continues to rise, as evidenced by the recent spike of opioid-related overdoses and deaths, the number of drug users also continues to rise.
However, many of those users engaged in the use of drugs are not committing other crimes, but instead are suffering from a disease which is best addressed through a treatment program – not incarceration. Mr. Obama certainly recognized this though his commutation actions, which granted hundreds of former nonviolent drug offenders a new lease on life.
If you or a loved one is suffering from the disease of addiction, know that treatment options are available — and treatment does work. Take the important first step towards recovery today, call our Admissions team at (866) 905-4550 for a confidential consultation.