During the height of the war on drugs in the 1980s, countless Americans were handed down harsh prison sentences for drug possession convictions. Many of those who received unduly harsh sentences were poor minorities and it soon became clear that the war on drugs promoted racial inequality.
Since that time, the criminal justice system has eased up its approach on low-level drug offences. Most notably, the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 reduced the disparity between sentences applied to offenses involving crack cocaine, which typically involved poor, minority defendants, and those involving powder cocaine, which often involved more affluent white defendants.
Additionally, mandatory minimum sentences — which sent many non-violent offenders to prison for decades — were eliminated for simple crack cocaine charges. Congress is currently considering other federal law changes that would do away with minimum sentences in other scenarios as well.
This week, the Justice Department announced that it will take the movement a step further by granting clemency to many non-violent drug offenders who were convicted under outdated and unforgiving federal laws.
In announcing the effort, which is being called the Clemency Project 2014, the deputy attorney general said that the “older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”
Volunteer lawyers will assist those interested in asking for clemency with the application process. Additional prosecutors and defense attorneys will be brought on to help handle what is expected to be a large influx of clemency requests.
Check back soon for more on this important topic, including who may be eligible for clemency.
Source: New York Times, “Reviving Clemency, Serving Justice,” editorial, April 23, 2014