Barack Obama reduced the sentences of eight people convicted of crack cocaine offences on Thursday, using his power of clemency to make statement about what the administration believes is an overly punitive criminal justice system.
The president said that his decision to commute the sentences was a small step toward rectifying an “unfair system” which has resulted in thousands of inmates receiving lengthy terms, raising hopes of a renewed push by the administration to reform the country’s criminal justice system.
Three years ago, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, a law which significantly narrowed the enormous disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offences. But it did not apply retrospectively. Obama acknowledged on Thursday that “for thousands of inmates, [the law] came too late”, and said the eight men and women to whom he offered clemency had each already served more than 15 years in prison.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama said in a statement. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognised as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”