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Broadening Criteria For Clemency To Reduce Nation’s Federal Prison Population

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, Justice Department is broadening the criteria it will use in evaluating clemency petitions from certain federal prisoners.

prisonThe new criterion is aimed at inmates serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. The goal is to reduce the nation’s federal prison population and, “ensure that those who have paid their debs have a chance to become productive citizens,” Holder said in a video message.

The announcement is part of an ongoing Obama administration push to re-evaluate sentences for drug crimes that officials believe were unduly harsh.

According to a Pew Center study, 2.3 million Americans are in jail or prison. That record-breaking number makes the United States No. 1 in the total number of prisoners behind bars and the proportion of people who are locked up.

In December, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight drug prisoners — including six who were serving life sentences. The Justice Department publicly encouraged defense lawyers from around the country to help low-level, nonviolent drug offenders prepare petitions for clemency.

The Justice Department evaluates and recommends clemency applications for the president’s review, taking into account:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • the person’s acceptance of responsibility
  • Behavior since the conviction I
  • Input from the prosecuting office that handled the case

Historically, the overwhelming majority of requests for pardons and sentence commutations are not granted. The trend has continued in the Obama administration — Obama commuted only one sentence in his first term — causing groups that advocate for prisoners to criticize the president as being too stingy with his power.

With the aid of the new criteria the Justice Department expects to tap into a broader pool of convicts who may be good candidates to have their sentences cut short. Holder said the department was prepared to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency and may assign dozens of lawyers to review those applications.

“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. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences,” Holder said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the number of commutations granted will depend on the number of worthy candidates.

“And in terms of how many deserving candidates are out there, I couldn’t begin to speculate,” he said.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said he was heartened by the push to increase the number of clemency applications after years of what he described as relative inactivity on that front.

“What you see is some focused attention on the part of the administration to deal with this in a serious way,” he said.

The facts of this article were courtesy of the Associated Press.

Image Courtesy of: Radical Net Blog

Broadening Criteria For Clemency To Reduce Nation’s Federal Prison Population

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