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Obama set to release dozens of non-violent drug offenders as use of clemency expands

  • President could commute sentences for 40 drug offenders this month 
  • He has already free 43 inmates, with large numbers stemming from crack cocaine cases where sentencing guidelines were seen as too strict 
  • Program for clemency has already received 30,000 applicants
  • Obama’s increased use of clemency reverses trend from previous decades

Christopher Brennan For Dailymail.com

Barack Obama is ready to use his presidential power to commute sentences to release dozens of non-violent drug offenders, according to a report.

Obama may double his current number of commuted sentences 43, by the end of the month, according to the New York Times.

The president had released very few prisoners in his first term in office, but has recently begun to use the power more aggressively to combat sentences that are seen as unjustly high for non-violent offenses.

President Obama is planning on using his clemency powers to release dozens of non-violent drug offense inmates as part of a bid to reduce prison populations. Above, he speaks about the economy in Wisconsin

President Obama is planning on using his clemency powers to release dozens of non-violent drug offense inmates as part of a bid to reduce prison populations. Above, he speaks about the economy in Wisconsin

The US president has the power to commute sentences and also to grant pardons, which eliminates any addition legal liabilities from a punishment, according to the New York Times.

Obama commuted the sentences of 22 drug offenders in March.

His embrace of commuting sentences breaks with a trend among presidents to use issue such orders less and less.

While Lyndon Johnson commuted 80 sentences in the year 1966 alone, though Ronald Reagan only commuted 13 and George W Bush commuted 11 during his eight years.

Forty of the 43 people by Obama have been drug offenders, with the remaining being a trio of Cuban spies who were deported, according to POLITICO.

A large number of whom were sentenced for crack cocaine at a time when punishments for the drug were disproportionately high, especially compared to powder cocaine. The punishments largely affected Latinos and African-Americans.

Congress passed a law easing the strict penalties in 2010.

Many of those Obama has commuted sentences for in the past were punished under strict drug laws that had disproportionate effects on the African-American and Latino communities

Many of those Obama has commuted sentences for in the past were punished under strict drug laws that had disproportionate effects on the African-American and Latino communities

Obama began looking at ways to begin commuting sentences, part of broader efforts to reduce the prison population, last year.

A group of lawyers in the Clemency Project, which includes attorneys from the American Bar Association, has received more than 30,000 applications for the program.

The organization has set ‘is reviewing requests from prisoners to determine if a prisoner has served ten years and does not have an obviously disqualifying feature (such as a crime of violence)’, according to its website.

The New York Times says that Justice Department officials have also looked at sentences where judges noted that they disagreed with the mandatory minimums prescribed by law.

The idea of lower the prison population, which was inflated by laws in the 1980s designed to be ‘tough on crime’, has drawn support from both conservative and liberal corners.

Those issuing pardons and commuting sentences face possible backlash if the released criminals are caught for further offenses, such as convicted murderer William Horton (pictured), who committed a rape while furloughed
Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis's campaign suffered after an attack ad spoke about a 'revolving door' prison system in his state of Massachusetts

Those issuing pardons and commuting sentences face possible backlash if the released criminals are caught for further offenses. Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’s campaign suffered after he supported a program that furloughed William Horton (left) from prison before he was later convicted of rape

A vice president for the company of billionaire Charles Koch, a frequent supporter of Republican causes, said last month that the clemency effort was not moving fast enough, according to USA Today.

Despite the bipartisan effort, worries still remain in releasing prisoners.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’s campaign for the White House in 1988 was damaged by the fact that he had supported a program that furloughed convicted murderer Willie Horton from prison.

Horton escaped during the weekend and was later found guilty of raping a woman.

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