By Alan Bean
Could President Obama be on the verge of commuting the sentences of hundreds, even thousands of non-violent drug offenders sentenced under draconian, and now-defunct, mandatory minimum laws?
It appears so. Criminal justice reform advocates have wondered for years why a president who claims to be concerned about our seriously flawed system of justice has been less willing to pardon and commute sentences than hard-nosed conservatives like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the former governor of tuff-on-crime Texas.
Part of the reason, as this Pro Publica article spells out, is that few petitions for clemency reach the president’s desk. Ronald Rodgers, who heads the Office of the Pardon Attorney, is an ex-military man and former federal prosecutor who has little sympathy for convicted felons.
But why hasn’t Obama sacked Rodgers long ago if the Pardon Attorney’s policies are incompatible with the president’s wishes? Lord knows, the president has taken a lot of heated criticism over this issue over the years.
It could also be argued that Democratic presidents are vulnerable to charges of being soft on crime; but in recent years, reform has become a bi-partisan issue. I suspect the libertarian wing of the Republican party has done more to further concrete reform legislation than purported liberals over the course of the last decade. So the fear-of-backlash theory doesn’t wash.
How can mere mortals understand the workings of a US president? It is like grappling with the problem of evil–the ways of the Almighty are inscrutable.
But, whatever the explanation, there are rumors afoot that Rodgers is on his way out and that the merciful rhetoric we have been hearing from Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder in recent years may finally translate into action.
Let’s hope so. And if the mercy movement reaches folks like Ramsey Muniz, a 70 year-old civil rights activist who has spent 20 years in federal prisons on trumped up narcotics conspiracy charges, so much the better.
DUBLIN, Calif—Scrawled on the inside of Barbara Scrivner’s left arm is a primitive prison tattoo that says “Time Flies.”
If only that were the case.
For Scrivner, time has crawled, it’s dawdled, and on bad days, it’s felt like it’s stood completely still. She was 27 years old when she started serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison for selling a few ounces of methamphetamine. Now, 20 years later, she feels like she’s still living in the early ’90s—she’s never seen or touched a cellphone, she still listens to her favorite band, the Scorpions, and she carefully coats her eyelids in electric blue eye shadow in the morning.
It’s out there, outside of prison, where time flies. (more…)