To: President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Deputy Attorney General James Cole,
A SUGGESTION FOR ADDRESSING OUR PROPENSITY FOR OVERINCARCERATION: CLEMENCY AND THE WAR ON DRUGS
Grant a systemic or group Presidential Clemency to a unique category of nonviolent federal inmates. This group would be nonviolent drug offenders serving sentences of life without parole or de facto life without parole. Model this clemency on the clemency granted by President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter who gave clemency to those who had violated the Selective Service Act during the War in Viet Nam. The War on Drugs has been an equally divisive war imprisoning a generation of men and women.
Our prolonged War on Drugs has left this country with a legacy of thousands of nonviolent offenders serving sentences that may very well mean death behind prison walls. There are children, wives, husbands, parents and siblings who long to have their loved ones home again. Moreover this War continues to cost billions of tax dollars to support a policy that is at best suspect and losing the support of citizens it is designed to keep safe.
The public is no longer complacent about the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine. This disparity has exposed a highly discriminatory distinction that has led to egregious sentencing for some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
At the present time, the legal status of marijuana is being challenged state by state. The cruel irony is that every year there are 700,000 to 800,000 local, state and federal arrests for marijuana that most of the population sees as no more harmful than alcohol. This is evidenced by the fact that marijuana is now being legalized across the country state by state at a staggering rate.
If the covenant between those who govern and the citizens who are governed is to be maintained, the costly experiment of the War on Drugs needs to be seriously addressed.
This suggestion is modeled on a solution that resolved the legal status of offenders in an equally divisive war, The War in Viet Nam. Using the power of the president for systemic pardoning is nothing new. It’s been done frequently since our country’s first president - George Washington.
We urge the president to use the model of President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. After President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon on September 16, 1970 he initiated a Clemency Program for those who violated the Selective Act. Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians, those who evaded the draft and 11,872 to military personnel, those who went AWOL. President Jimmy Carter expanded the clemency healing many wounds and bringing thousands of young men back into the fold of citizenship.
Our criminal justice system needs a cleansing to restore faith in the integrity and justness of our law. Non Violent marijuana offenders who have received life without parole or de facto life sentences for marijuana only offenses could be granted a group commutation after a significant number of years served – be it ten years or some other designation. It could be commutation for those who had served 10 years and or reached the age of 60.
We are warehousing non-violent old men and women whose offense was selling a substance that is being reevaluated and legalized.
Nonviolent crack offenders could be addressed in the same manner. Commute crack sentences when time served equals the time of incarceration for same weight cocaine offenses.
Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country. This is a Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric. The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.
Alexander Hamilton (Federalist #74) “Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”