President Obama commuted the sentences of eight men and women serving at least 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses, The New York Times reported.
Six of the federal inmates had been sentenced to life in prison. Now most of them will be released in 120 days. Obama also granted 13 pardons to people convicted of drug offenses, the White House said.
Three years ago, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity of sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
In a statement released by the White House, Obama referred to the sentencing under the previous drug laws as an “unfair system.”
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
As the Times notes, compared with other modern presidents, Obama has made less use of his clemency powers when it comes to reducing sentences.
One of the most high-profile prisoners of the eight is Clarence Aaron of Alabama, who was sentenced to three life terms in prison after he was caught in a 1993 drug deal at the age of 22. Aaron’s case received a lot of media attention after critics of the previous harsh drug laws and civil rights group took up his case.
Margaret Love, Aaron’s attorney, told the Times, “He was absolutely overcome. Actually I was, too. He was in tears. This has been a long haul for him, 20 years. He just was speechless and it’s very exciting.”
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government will no longer pursue strict “mandatory minimums” for “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels.”