Obama and Holder to Expand Clemency for Unfair Prison Sentences

By Brentin Mock Apr 21, 2014

Twenty years ago, Nas took a walk down "Memory Lane" with grief about "judges hangin’ niggas [with] uncorrect bails for direct sales." It was an observation that young African-Americans were getting handed punishments too extreme for the petty drug crimes for which they were arrested. Since taking the White House, President Obama has been taking measures to correct that. First, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law in 2010 to reduce racial sentencing disparities for crack-cocaine offenders; and then, he released eight men and women from prison last December who were jailed far too long compared to the crimes they were convicted for. Attorney General Eric Holder has been doing his own cleanup job in the meantime by reforming sentencing guidelines, tweaking racial profiling policies, and pushing for restoration of voting rights for those with past felony convictions.

Today, Obama and Holder are looking for ways to bring even more justice to those unfairly punished. They are seeking ways to expand Obama’s clemency powers so that the president can release more people from prison who are victims of what Holder calls the "old regime" of "tough on crime" criminal justice policies. Holder announced today that he has created new clemency criteria that will allow the Justice Department and Obama to consider and grant get-out-of-jail free cards to a larger field of eligible prisoners. 

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety," said Attorney General Holder in this video message posted today. "The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

Holder said he expects thousands of new applications for clemency to be submitted after this new criteria takes hold. To meet the demand, the Justice Department is bringing in extra lawyers to help review the applications. 

"As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens," said Holder. "Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative–to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law."