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Feds expand pathway to clemency for low-level drug crimes

For several decades, law enforcement officials have been waging the "War on Drugs." As a result of this nationwide effort, thousands of people have been convicted for drug-related offenses and handed exceptionally stringent sentences.

As time has passed, however, attitudes have shifted about how certain drug crimes are handled. Those who are incarcerated on low-level, non-violent drug crimes serve lengthy jail sentences, but many believe that this isn't the best way to address the issue. Instead, these individuals would benefit more from sentences that are more rehabilitative in nature. This has led to calls for changes to mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice took another step in changing the way that federal drug crimes are processed. Federal officials announced that the criteria for clemency have expanded to include more people who are serving time in prisons for non-violent drug crimes. However, sentences would be commuted only if the following criteria are met:

  • The crime in question must be considered low level and non violent.
  • The individual seeking clemency cannot have a lengthy criminal record.
  • At the time clemency is sought, the individual must have served at least 10 years in prison.
  • The applicant must have demonstrated good behavior in prison.

Early estimates suggest that the new criteria would apply to about 2,000 of the 200,000 people serving time in federal prison. Of course, the president still has final authority on who receives clemency, which means that the number of people who have their sentences commuted could actually be smaller than 2,000.

Supporters of drug law reform have praised this most recent move. In fact, one man noted that the expanded clemency qualifications illustrate the "beginning of the end of the age of mass incarceration."

Source: CNN, "Rules change means more drug offenders eligible for clemency," Evan Perez, April 23, 2014

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