A SUGGESTION FOR ADDRESSING OUR PROPENSITY FOR OVERINCARCERATION: CLEMENCY FOR NONVIOLENT DRUG OFENDERS SERVING LIFE SENTENCES
We are asking the President Obama to grant a systemic or group Presidential Clemency to a unique category of nonviolent federal inmates. This group would be nonviolent drug offenders serving sentences of life without parole or de facto life without parole.
There is a common thread running through these nonviolent life without parole sentences.
1. A high percentage of these offenders exercised their sixth amendment right to trial and received a many fold sentencing enhancement for this decision,
2. Many were charged and prosecuted for conspiracy with only cooperating witnesses and informants giving testimony.
3. Most of these inmates were sentenced under mandatory minimums and enhanced sentencing guidelines and they are aging in prison after having already served considerable time.
Model this clemency on the clemency granted by President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter who gave clemency to those who had violated the Selective Service Act during the War in Viet Nam. The War on Drugs has been an equally divisive war imprisoning generations of men and women.
Our prolonged War on Drugs has left this country with a legacy of thousands of nonviolent offenders serving sentences that may very well mean death behind prison walls. There are children, wives, husbands, parents and siblings who long to have their loved ones home again. Moreover this War continues to cost billions of tax dollars to support a policy that is at best suspect and losing the support of citizens it is designed to keep safe.
The public is no longer complacent about the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine. At the present time, the legal status of marijuana is being challenged state by state.
If the covenant between those who govern and the citizens who are governed is to be maintained, the costly experiment of the War on Drugs needs to be seriously addressed.
This suggestion is modeled on a solution that resolved the legal status of offenders in an equally divisive war, The War in Viet Nam. Using the power of the president for systemic pardoning is nothing new. It’s been done frequently since our country’s first president - George Washington.
We urge the president to use the model of President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. After President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, he initiated a Clemency Program for those who violated the Selective Act. Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians, those who evaded the draft and 11,872 to military personnel, those who went AWOL. President Jimmy Carter expanded the clemency healing many wounds and bringing thousands of young men back into the fold of citizenship.
Our criminal justice system needs a cleansing to restore faith in the integrity and justness of our law. Non Violent marijuana offenders who have received life without parole or de facto life sentences for marijuana only offenses could be granted a group commutation after a significant number of years served – be it ten years or some other designation. It could be commutation for those who had served 10 years and/or reached the age of 60.
Nonviolent crack offenders could be addressed in the same manner. Commute crack sentences when time served equals the time of incarceration for same weight cocaine offenses.
Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country. This is a Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric. The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.