President Barack Obama

In addition to announcing a new chapter in the U.S. relationship with Cuba, the president on Wednesday drastically shortened the prison sentences of eight nonviolent drug offenders and pardoned 12 other convicts who were imprisoned for a variety of nonviolent offenses, the Associated Press reports.

AP predicts that the initiative is likely a foreshadowing of a huge effort on the president’s part in his last two years in office to grant clemency to large groups of offenders who are serving bloated prison sentences that they would not received had they committed the same crime today. Many of those sentences reflected the racial disparities between harshly penalized crack-cocaine convictions, which are most often committed by African Americans, and those for powder cocaine, which are most common among whites.


According to AP, “The president signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 to cut penalties for crack cocaine offenses in order to reduce the disparity. But the act addressed only new cases, not old ones.”

“I think there is an awareness out there that this president is interested in granting clemency on these kinds of matters,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in an interview with AP.


The program will apply to a variety of offenders. “The clemency policy changes aren’t limited to drug offenders, who comprise about half of the roughly 216,000 federal prisoners, but the criteria makes it clear they are the main target,” the news site explains.

The White House notes that approximately 6,500 people applied for clemency in the past year, while 2,370 did the year before.


“To be eligible, inmates must have already been behind bars for at least 10 years, have a nonviolent history, have no major criminal convictions, have a good behavior record in prison, and be serving a sentence that, if imposed today, would be substantially shorter than what they were given at the time,” AP explains.

Read more at the Associated Press.