WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, FAMM founder and president Julie Stewart issued the following statement calling on President Barack Obama to grant more commutations (sentence reductions) to federal prisoners, rather than merely issuing another the annual presidential pardons to Thanksgiving turkeys:
“This administration has taken a bold stand against excessive mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, but it hasn’t lived up to its own ideals when it comes to commuting the sentences of those very people. Each year, thousands of nonviolent offenders receive sentences that don’t fit them or their crimes. Commutations can fix at least some of those injustices. Deserving, rehabilitated people who have been punished enough are looking to President Obama to get their lives back. Those lives are much more valuable than that of a pardoned turkey. More commutations could also be just the inspiration Congress needs to pass sentencing reform and save the worst sentences for the worst offenders.”
The U.S. Justice Department is vigorously supporting mandatory minimum sentencing reform efforts in Congress, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently instructed federal prosecutors to scale back their use of mandatory minimum drug sentences. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is currently considering two bipartisan bills that would reform decades-long federal mandatory minimum sentences, which are most frequently imposed on nonviolent drug offenders. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) have introduced S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have sponsored S. 619, the Justice Safety Valve Act. Both bills, if passed, would give judges more flexibility to sentence nonviolent offenders to appropriate prison terms when certain facts warrant a sentence below the mandatory minimum term. According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, both bills would restore billions in law enforcement funding to the U.S. Justice Department and alleviate dangerous levels of prison overcrowding. FAMM supports both bills.
President Obama has received over 8,700 commutation requests from federal prisoners and granted only one, to the late FAMM supporter Eugenia Jennings. Ms. Jennings served 10 years of a 22-year sentence for selling a small amount of crack cocaine. Ms. Jennings was ill with leukemia when her sentence was commuted and, after a long fight with the disease, passed away on October 13, 2013, surrounded by her three children.
President Obama has also granted only 39 pardons, restoring important civil and voting rights to those recipients. Nonetheless, President Obama has the worst clemency record of any U.S. president.
Ongoing investigative reporting from ProPublica helps explain why so few commutations and pardons have been granted. According to ProPublica’s findings, the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which reviews and makes recommendations on clemency applications, is marked by bureaucratic ineptitude, racial bias, and lack of accountability to the White House and taxpayers.
FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for fair, proportionate, and individualized sentences that fit the crime and the offender and protect the public. To arrange interviews with Julie Stewart or for more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.