With only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, America has become an incarceration nation spending a whopping $80 billion annually to keep over 2 million prisoners locked up; huge numbers of federal prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.
As a result of the stunning revelations about our caste-creating criminal justice system in her book, “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander has helped raise national awareness about these issues, and has contributed to a growing bi-partisan interest in specific reforms. To this end, beginning in 2014 President Obama launched a major policy initiative designed to ensure a fairer criminal justice system.
As part of a multi-pronged approach that includes supporting the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act and working with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders, the president authorized the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney to encourage federal inmates who meet certain conditions to apply for clemency. Only those candidates meeting the strict criteria are recommended to the president for consideration.
With his effort, Obama has reinvigorated the clemency authority that he initially rarely used; he even set a single-day record last Tuesday by granting 78 pardons and 153 commutations. In his words, “The power to grant pardons and commutations … embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
President George W. Bush vowed not to grant any clemency requests that hadn’t been officially recommended by the Justice Department. President Obama has scrupulously and cautiously followed suit in the name of justice for all Americans.