WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, the Obama administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a new plan to combat illegal drug use in America. The ONDCP described its proposal as a “science-driven plan” based on “evidence-based reforms that treat our Nation’s drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.”
According to ONDCP, the new policy plan “underscores what we all know to be true: we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.” ONDCP said the new plan builds on past administration successes, including reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and repealing a mandatory minimum drug sentence for “the first time in 40 years.”
FAMM President Julie Stewart reacted to ONDCP’s new plan by releasing the following statement:
I am glad that the White House acknowledges that we cannot eliminate illegal drug use by simply building more prisons and locking people up. This acknowledgement follows Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent admission that “too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason.”
Of course, the administration almost always says the right thing when it comes to combating prison overcrowding and reforming the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that contribute to it. But after four and a half years of saying it wants smarter anti-crime policies, it’s time for the administration to prove it.
First, the administration should embrace the new bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate to restore judicial discretion in cases where a mandatory minimum sentence is not needed to protect public safety. The administration is proud that in 2010 it eliminated the first mandatory minimum in 40 years, for crack cocaine possession. It’s time to take the next step by preventing misuse of the mandatory sentencing laws that remain on the books. The administration should embrace and champion The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S.619 and H.R. 1695), which has already been endorsed by individuals and organizations from across the political spectrum, including tax reform advocates, religious groups, and sentencing reform experts.
The president should also use his constitutional authority to grant clemency to those offenders serving excessive sentences, especially the thousands punished under the crack-powder disparity scheme that was repudiated by Congress in 2010 and described as “unfair” and an “injustice” by the White House. Yet those whose sentences served as the cornerstone for crack reforms, still sit in prison serving sentences they would no longer receive today.
President Obama has commuted just one sentence in his four-plus years in office. His record on clemency is worse than that of any president in modern history. More than nine months ago, the president ordered a fresh review of Clarence Aaron’s request for a commutation. Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender, was sentenced in 1993 to three life terms in prison for arranging a meeting between two drug dealers. Aaron, just 24 at the time, has served 20 years in prison and will die there unless his sentence is commuted.
Nine months after President Obama asked for a fresh review of Aaron’s petition, and four months after his Justice Department found serious misconduct in the handling of Aaron’s previous petition, Clarence Aaron remains behind bars. So long as he does, it will be impossible to take seriously the administration’s claims that it understands the systemic problems and individual injustices caused by existing drug sentencing laws.”
FAMM, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, fights for fair and proportionate federal and state sentencing laws that embrace judicial discretion while guarding public safety. Please visit us at famm.org.