On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 drug offenders in the largest batch of prisoners granted early release under his administration’s sweeping overhaul of the justice system. Obama hopes to reduce prison overcrowding and to fix the archaic and overly harsh penalties for drug offenses.
Obama had previously commuted the sentences of 8 prisoners who would likely be punished less severely under today’s laws than when they were originally sentenced. The newest batch of 22 drug offenders will be freed in late July — including Francis Darrell Hayden, who was sentenced to life in prison for growing marijuana in 2002.
Think Progress reports that:
According to a 2004 federal appeals court opinion, Hayden’s only crimes were marijuana violations. Yet, in part because the 2002 conviction was his third — he was also convicted of marijuana offenses in 1980 and 1990 — Hayden received a life sentence for his involvement in a conspiracy to grow and harvest marijuana.
In fairness to the court that sentenced him, this conspiracy involved a whole lot of marijuana — a total of over 18,900 marijuana plants were grown in rows hidden by taller rows of corn.
According to a November 2014 Gallup poll, Americans generally support legal marijuana. On the whole, 51 percent of Americans support legalization — including 73 percent of liberals, 58 percent of moderates, and even 31 percent of conservatives.
The Obama Administration has traditionally been conservative in its decisions to grant clemency, with the 22 prisoners whose sentences were commuted comprising more than half of all commutations issued by Obama throughout his entire presidency.
However, Obama has promised to redouble efforts in helping those who have been punished by archaic War on Drugs legislation, which is now largely recognized to have been a failure. “The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Eric Holder announced in April. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.” This could mean freedom for hundreds, or even thousands, of nonviolent drug offenders.
President Obama recently sat down with David Simon, the creator of the popular drama the Wire, and the President made it clear he is determined to repeal the the antiquated laws that propagate a vicious cycle of incarceration, a burden that falls overwhelmingly heavily on minority communities, and that put undue strain state finances while depriving America of her human capital. It’s uplifting to see the President take these first steps towards resolving these critical issues.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.