Obama Commutes Sentences Of 8 Inmates Convicted Of Crack Offenses

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President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses, greatly expanding his use of the presidential clemency power to help those incarcerated because of harsh drug laws.

In a statement, Obama said they’d been sentenced under an “unfair system.” In 2011, Congress passed a law that effectively reduced the federal government’s mandatory penalties for people convicted of crack offenses, but commuting the sentences  represents the first time the reform has been applied to those convicted before it was adopted. “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 explained in the statement.

Three of the inmates — Reynolds Wintersmith Jr., Clarence Aaron and Stephanie George — were featured in a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union about the thousands of people serving life in prison for nonviolent offenses. The report, which received attention from a range of media outlets, including The Huffington Post, revealed that more than 3,000 inmates were serving life without parole for drug, property and other nonviolent crimes as of 2012, comprising about 6 percent of the total life-without-parole population.

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