The war on drugs in America has landed millions of non-violent drug offenders in jail. More people in America are in jail than any other country, and more than half of them are in jail for drug related offenses. What’s worse, after serving their time, often extraordinarily long sentences, they find limited options for the future – resulting in increased recidivism rates.
Part of the problem is that in many states there are mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Year after year, people are sent away for extremely long periods of time and in some cases non-violent drug offenders are serving life sentences.
In an effort to reverse the effects of America’s draconian drug laws, President Obama is commuting the sentences of 22 convicted federal prisoners behind bars for drug-related crimes – eight of which were serving life sentences, USA Today reports. Of the 22, seventeen were convicted for cocaine possession or trafficking.
The others were convicted on methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin-related offenses spanning from 1992 to 2006. Those being released showed exemplary behavior, some of whom furthered their education or learned a new trade, according to the article.
“Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will encounter many who doubt people with criminal records can change,” he wrote to each of them on Tuesday. “I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong.”
Obama’s efforts to give those convicted for drug offenses have been extensive. In 2010 he signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. Last December, he commuted eight federal drug offenders – four of which were serving life.
“We are thrilled that President Obama is making good on his promise to use the powers granted to him by the Constitution to provide relief for federal prisoners serving excessively long mandatory minimum sentences,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “We hope and expect to see more commutations granted through the end of his term.”