On Tuesday, in a move that had been expected for some months, Barack Obama reduced the prison sentences of 46 non-violent offenders. 14 of those were serving life sentences.
One woman who wasn’t released, but should have been, is Sharanda Jones. In 1999, a federal judge sentenced her to life in prison after conviction on a single cocaine offense. She was a first-time, nonviolent offender, but prosecutors added so many unfair “enhancements” to their case that the judge had no option.
Of those whose sentences were reduced, Obama said “their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”
The US has the largest prison population in the world. A 2014 report [PDF] by Human Rights Watch says “tough-on-crime” laws in the 1980s resulted in U.S. prisons mostly containing nonviolent offenders. The failure to rehabilitate prisoners means many are worse than they were before incarceration.
The White House released a video, in which Obama said, “These men and women were not hardened criminals.” The overwhelming majority of the 46 were sentenced to at least 20 years in prison. This is expected to be one of many moves to reduce the huge prison population.
The US criminal justice system does not appear to be fair and the administration’s goal is to make it more fair.
In the past six years, has reduced the prison sentences of 44 others. The majority were non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under tough sentencing guidelines.
To notify the 46 of their sentence reduction, Obama penned a personal letter to each of them.
One of the letters was released by the White House. It was to Jerry Bailey, sentenced to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to violate laws against crack-cocaine. The letter praised Bailey for showing the potential to turn his life around and for his good behavior while in a federal correctional facility in Georgia.
In part, the letter said, “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.”
Much of Obama’s past week has been dedicated to the criminal justice system. On Thursday, he plans to visit the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution near Oklahoma City. He will be the first president to actually visit a federal prison, meeting both correctional officials and inmates.