Leila McDowell, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-822-6700
Jessica Breslin, email@example.com, 202-822-6700
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, DC – Several prisoners whose cases were championed by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) were granted clemency in President Obama’s first clemency grants since December 2015. President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 61 prisoners today, bringing his total number of commutation grants to 248 – more than the past five presidents combined.
Ismael Rosa Ismael Rosa was a salsa musician struggling with cocaine addiction when he became involved in a drug conspiracy. He was only involved for six days, but, in 1994, he was given a mandatory life sentence in federal prison because of two minor priors related to his addiction. Rosa served more than 20 years in prison, and has watched as every single person above him in the conspiracy, including its leader, has been released from prison.
Kenneth Harvey In 1990, Kenneth Harvey was sentenced to life in prison as a result of his conviction for possessing 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. Because of Harvey’s two prior drug convictions, his judge has no choice but to impose a life sentence, but he took the unusual step of recommending that Harvey’s sentence be commuted after 15 years.
Carol Denise Richardson Carol Richardson was 38 years old when, in 2006, she was sentenced to life in prison for her role in a crack conspiracy. Her sentence was enhanced due to minor drug priors. The Texas native has been separated from her four daughters for more than 10 years.
Jesse Webster In 1996, Jesse Webster was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a cocaine conspiracy, his first and only drug offense. At the time, Webster’s sentencing judge, James B. Zagel, said the life term he was forced to impose was “too high.” The Chicago native has been incarcerated for more than 20 years.
“We are deeply gratified that the President has used the power of the Oval Office to give relief to people serving unjust sentences, for low-level, nonviolent crimes. Unfortunately, clemency can’t change policy. Congress should be eliminating mandatory minimum sentences so that thousands more don’t serve excessive sentences that don’t make Americans safer,” said FAMM President Julie Stewart.
Norman Brown was one of those. Norman was only 24 years old when he was given a life sentence for his role in a low-level, nonviolent crack offense. President Obama commuted his sentence in July 2015 after he spent 22 years in prison. He now performs clerical work at an attorney’s office and dreams of working with young people and those returning from prison, who face often insurmountable barriers to employment and housing. His greatest joy is being a father to his daughter, who was born while he was incarcerated.
“Norman may have deserved to go to prison, but did he need life?” Stewart asks.
“The constitution gives presidents the power to grant mercy, and these commutations show that President Obama takes second chances seriously,” said FAMM General Counsel Mary Price, who directs the organization’s clemency project. “The more commutations the President grants, the louder that message becomes,” Price said.
According to the criteria released by the Department of Justice, prisoners petitioning for clemency must:
- currently be serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
- be non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels;
- have served at least 10 years of their sentence;
- have no significant criminal history;
- have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
- have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
FAMM is a founding member of Clemency Project 2014, an unprecedented, independent effort by the nation’s bar that has recruited and trained nearly 4,000 volunteer lawyers from diverse practice backgrounds and completed screening of nearly 30,000 of the more than 35,000 federal prisoners who have requested volunteer assistance with filing a request for a commutation.
FAMM is the nation’s preeminent organization working for sentencing reform and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year