President Obama Commutes Sentences of 22 Convicted of Drug Crimes

Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In 2014 Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the lengthy sentences that people selling drugs received, and on Tuesday President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of some 22 federal prisoners, some of whom were serving life in prison for drug distribution, backing a shift by the White House to reduce harsh penalties for nonviolent drug crimes.

In 2010 President Obama signed a law that would end the disparity in sentencing between those caught with powder cocaine and those caught with crack. While the creation and signing of the bill was useful for those being sentenced after it was made law, it didn't affect the sentencing of those who had already received lengthy jail time for distribution.


"Added to his prior 21 commutations, the president has now granted 43 commutations total. To put President Obama's actions in context, President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences in his eight years in office," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a blog post. "To further this progress, the president has established a clemency initiative to encourage individuals who were sentenced under outdated laws and policies to petition for commutation."

Each of the 22 inmates received a letter from the president, which stated that they had served their time, and noting that he believed in them.


"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances," Obama wrote. "But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong."

Most of the inmates are expected to be released by the end of July.

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