President Obama just made Christmas very merry for about 230 offenders when he pardoned and commuted their sentences. However, clemency is not a national policy, but a Band-Aid solution to the much-needed reforms for our criminal justice system.
These clemencies bring his total to over 1,000 since he’s been in office. That’s more than the past 11 presidents combined. Giving these former inmates a second chance should be lauded and I hope more inmates will get another chance.
Recently, singer John Legend penned an open letter in Rolling Stones magazine to President Obama making a plea to President Obama to issue categorical commutations to “bring an end to the injustice that remains in our federal sentencing schemes.” He’s correct.
America is concerned incarceration nation. We have 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the prison population. Our addition to incarceration over the last four decades as the anecdote to law-breaking has 2.2 million in our nation’s prison and jails – an increase of 500 percent. It’s not necessarily that people are committing more crimes, but that changes to sentencing policy due to the War on Drugs has flooded Americans prisons and jails and for longer sentences. For example, there were 4,700 drug offenders were in federal prison in 980, but that has grown to 96,500 in 2014. On average the length of time federal inmates spend behind bars has more than doubled from 17.9 to 37.5 months from 1988 to 2012.
The problem is that commutations benefit a few people, while thousands more Americans are stuck in our broken criminal justice system.
Let’s discuss President Obama’s clemency just before Christmas and the larger reforms needed to our criminal justice system.
Patrice Lee Onwuka is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum and a contributor to Bold Global Media.
Patrice has worked in policy, media, and consulting roles on youth and women’s issues. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CNBC, Bloomberg, the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and other outlets. She is a regular guest on Fox News, Fox Business News, MSNBC, and PBS programs.
Patrice holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Tufts University and a master’s degree in economics and international relations from Boston College. Follow her @PatricePinkFile