President Barack Obama is set to become the first US President to visit a federal prison while in office, as he is scheduled to travel at the El Reno Correctional Institution in Oklahoma City on Thursday
The entire trip will be recorded by a Vice team and will be aired on HBO later this year, with the visit maintaining the tone of Obama administration’s efforts to chisel a “fairer” criminal justice system in the United States, while combating harsh drug laws which see minorities disproportionately imprisoned.
The president is expected to sign decrees in the following weeks which will result in the release of dozens of federal convicts who were jailed under non-violent drug trafficking and possession offenses. It is very likely that this will bring Obama’s number of commuted sentences to the highest in the last half century, since Lyndon B. Johnson commuted 80 sentences during 1966. The president has commuted already four times as many convicts as did George W. Bush during his two terms in office.
Since the Presidential Administration has opened applications for clemency, more than 30,000 convicts have responded in hopes of their sentences being commuted or even hoping at being pardoned. Most of the applications are from prisoners jailed on drug-related cases.
Obama has already shown a certain commitment to making drug-related punishments less harsh, after he signed a bill which erased a sentence disparity between offenses relating powder cocaine and crack.
The president also stated that he would have offered more clemency and pardon rulings earlier in his initial mandate had he been forwarded more requests. The former head of the Office of the Pardon Attorney Ronald Rogers – a Bush administration veteran – apparently did not recommend him too many cases, and the most would be related to offenses which happened a long time ago.
Things have changed however nowadays, with current pardon attorney Deborah Leff taking a much more active approach in recommending cases which address critical issues of the American criminal justice system. The administration is also receiving clemency and pardon applications from a consortium named Clemency Project 2014, formed out of multiple high profile law firms, schools and lawyers.
For it to be considered, a sentence commutation petition must meet some certain conditions. The perpetrators must have been convicted on non-violent offences, which if done today would have resulted in a significantly lower sentence than at the time of their conviction. They also need to have served at least 10 years of jail term and be on either their first offense or lack a previous significant indictment.
Image Source: Christian Science Monitor