President Obama has the worst clemency record of any president in modern history, and last April he promised to change that. But will he keep that promise?
Now serving life sentences, thousands of nonviolent offenders -some only teens at the time of their incarceration - are counting on his word. Last year the American Civil Liberties Union highlighted these injustices in the US justice system that even judges and prison officials are rebelling about. Such cases not only undermine our justice system, but they are an enormous “waste of tax dollars and human lives, “ says ACLU.
Tragically, children are often the ones most victimized by our overly harsh mandatory sentencing structure, and one daughter who lost her father to this harsh system has written a petition asking Obama for clemency. Heather Minor, now 21, was only 7 years old when her father, who suffered from a drug addiction, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Now she just wants a chance to “know her dad like any other daughter.” There are thousands more like Heather and Ricky Minor who are counting on the President to keep his promise to end this injustice in America.
Ask the President to keep his promise to improve his clemency record - and end life imprisonment for nonviolent offenders.
We, the undersigned, say President Obama should take immediate action to correct his poor clemency record.
According to a 2012 ProPublica investigation, President Obama had, at that time, granted fewer commutations and pardons “than any president in modern history.” Compared to other presidents’ first-term records, Obama granted 1 in 50 pardons vs. Reagan‘s 1 in 3 and Clinton’s 1 in 8. Regarding commutations, Obama’s record during his first term was 1 in every 5,000, compared to Reagan and Clinton's 1 in every 100 people.
Prison sentences are supposed to be about paying your debt and rehabilitation, not punishment for life, and life sentences have never been appropriate for nonviolent offenders, especially those who suffer from drug addictions and other medical problems.
Even worse, some serving these no-parole life sentences were children when they committed the crimes for which they were dealt this harsh blow.
ACLU‘s report, titled “A Living Death,” identified more than 3,200 nonviolent offenders sentenced to death in prison. Of those, the majority are black or Hispanic and poor. “Many had dismal legal counsel. Some were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles or very young adults….” A NY Times columnist who highlighted the ACLU report noted how this reflects on America’s image. “I write often about human rights abuses abroad. But when we take young, nonviolent offenders — some of them never arrested before — and sentence them to die in prison, it’s time for Americans who care about injustice to gaze in the mirror.”
As of April, 2014, the Justice Department has set new guidelines that are supposed to give President Obama more options under which he could grant clemency to drug offenders serving long prison sentences. The results of the ACLU report should make this a priority.
We request that the President not waste any time in putting those options to use and keep his promise to improve his abysmal clemency record.
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