Obama Frees A Bunch Of Drug Offenders

by Seth Millstein

Two years ago, President Obama signed a law that reduced mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenders, bringing them more in line with guidelines for regular cocaine sentencing. Now, the president has released eight Americans imprisoned for crack cocaine convictions, explaining that if the offenders had been sentenced under current law, they would have already been out of prison. “Today, I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system,” Obama said in a statement Thursday. “Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison. In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime.”

The freed offenders include Clarence Aaron, a college student who has spent two decades in prison simply for introducing two drug dealers to one another. In 1993, 23-year-old Aaron was given three life sentences for accepting $1,500 to arrange a meeting between two dealers, despite the fact that Aaron had no prior convictions and wasn’t buying, selling, or distributing any drugs. He asked President Bush for clemency in 2001 and was denied; however, the White House ordered a review of his clemency petition last year when it was revealed that Ronald Rodgers, the attorney in charge of pardons and a general scumbag, had intentionally withheld information from the Bush administration in order to keep Aaron imprisoned.

While the Obama administration has in some ways eased off of the drug war, the president has issued clemencies and pardons at a lower rate than any other president, pardoning a mere 39 people and commuting the sentence of only one person since taking office. Meanwhile, this happens every year.

When asked about this track record earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder said that “[we] are at year five I guess of eight, so I would say hold on,” which undoubtedly gave progressives and libertarians a glimmer of hope that Obama will mass-pardon a bunch of drug offenders during his last year in office. (Because, not like there's any rush when it comes to freeing people from prison.)

Here’s a list of all the clemencies Obama granted Thursday, which include thirteen pardons in addition to the commutations.