President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 drug offenders on Wednesday, continuing his widely-publicized effort to reform the United States’ broken federal justice system.
According to White House counsel Neil Eggleston, more than one third of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted today had been serving life sentences. Furthermore, the majority of these prisoners will be released as early as July 28.
According to the White House, President Obama has now commuted more prison sentences than the past six presidents combined. With a total of 248 inmates’ sentences commuted during his two terms, however, he remains very far off from his stated goal of shortening 10,000 prison sentences before leaving office.
Earlier this week, the president turned a page on drug law enforcement, publicly acknowledging that it’s time to treat opioid and heroin abuse as national health crises, not criminal ones. As part of that action, the president issued rule changes allowing doctors to provide more helpful care to individuals suffering from opiate addictions.
“Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorders has been a top priority for this administration,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy. “Research clearly shows that this approach, when combined with behavioral therapies, is more effective at sustaining recovery and preventing overdose.”
While the Obama administration appears to have only barely warmed to the idea of drug policy reform, these are good signs that the president will continue to work toward fairer treatments for U.S. citizens caught up in the federal justice system due to illegal drugs. And hopefully — if Obama doesn’t step up soon — our next president will be more willing to take drastic actions toward ending the international drug war once and for all.
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