On Wednesday, March 30, President Obama announced the commutation of the sentences of 61 federal prisoners serving time for drug-related offenses. The commutations are but the most recent attempt by the administration to draw attention to the need for criminal justice reform.
In a letter to those having their sentences commuted, Obama said, ““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.”
Three of the new commutees were present at the White House during the announcement. They were joined by four other individuals who had had their sentences commuted by the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. After the president’s brief remarks, the group left to have a private lunch with the president.
“I told President Obama today that you never want to underestimate the power of one act of kindness,” said Phillip Emmert, one of the individuals whose sentence was commuted by the president. “It changes people’s lives. When they see that people really do care about them, care about their future, care that they want to see them as a success, it changes people’s lives, especially people as powerful as President Obama.”
While the mood at the announcement was celebratory, there was also an acknowledgement that commutation does not solve the fundamental problem of unjust sentencing. “Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that clemency is nearly always a tool of last resort that can help specific individuals, but does nothing to make our criminal justice system on the whole more fair and just,” said White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston. “Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.”
Prison Fellowship believes in the power of transformation. Through our in-prison ministries, Prison Fellowship seeks the renewing of hearts and minds of incarcerated men and women, preparing them for a life of success beyond prison walls. And by working to make the criminal justice system more effective and just through advocacy on the federal and state levels, Prison Fellowship envisions a time when pardons and commutations are needed only to fix the rare miscarriages of justice. To learn more about how you be a part both in changing lives and transforming the existing prison system, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/action/.