President Obama is expected to commute the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack-cocaine offenses, expanding the president’s push to curb severe penalties for drug offenses, the New York Times reports.
The prisoners, all of whom have been locked away for at least 15 years, are expected to be released in the next 120 days.
According to the Times, this would be the first time “… retroactive relief was provided to a group of inmates who most likely would have received significantly shorter terms if they had been sentenced under current drug laws, sentencing rules and charging policies.”
The old system of punishment for crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine followed what the president deemed an “unfair system.”
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity in sentencing between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The 100:1 ratio meant that people involved in offenses for crack cocaine faced longer sentences that those involving the same amount of powder cocaine.
“This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late,” the president said in release given to the media. “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
One of those expected to receive a pardon is Clarence Aaron of Mobile, Ala. Aaron was sentenced to three life terms in prison for his role in a 1993 drug deal, when he was 22, the Times reports. Though it was Aaron’s first offense; there was no report of violence connected to the crime; and he was not the drug dealer, supplier or buyer, he received a harsher sentence than anyone else convicted in the case.
“He was absolutely overcome,” Margaret Love, a former Justice Department pardon lawyer who represents Aaron, told the Times. “Actually, I was, too. He was in tears. This has been a long haul for him, 20 years. He just was speechless, and it’s very exciting.”
Read more at the New York Times.