US announces early release plan for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders

This is welcome news from Russia Today:

Jan. 30th-Feb. 1st  2014

The Obama administration announced Thursday a new clemency effort that encourages defense lawyers to refer to the Department of Justice low-level, nonviolent drug offenders for early release from federal prisons.
Speaking before the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole unveiled the plan that seeks to determine possible clemency for inmates whose long-term incarceration “harms our criminal justice system.”
“You each can play a critical role in this process by providing a qualified petitioner – one who has a clean record in prison, does not present a threat to public safety, and who is facing a life or near-life sentence that is excessive under current law – with the opportunity to get a fresh start,” Cole said.
In addition, the US Bureau of Prisons will begin informing such low-level, nonviolent drug offenders of the opportunity to apply for early release, Cole said.
The announcement follows other initiatives and statements regarding prison reform made recently by top officials. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August that the same type of low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or major drug trafficking organizations, would no longer be charged with certain offenses that instituted harsh mandatory sentences.
President Obama followed Holder in December with the commutation of sentences of eight inmates serving extensive terms in prison for crack cocaine convictions. All of the eight – recommended by the Justice Department – had served at least 15 years in jail and had been convicted before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed in effort to close large sentencing disparities between those convicted for crack and those for powder cocaine crimes.
Obama said at the time those eight inmates would have received shorter sentences had the law existed when they were convicted, adding some would have already served their time by then.
Cole said the Justice Department would like to send more of those kind of cases to the White House.
“The president’s grant of commutations for these eight individuals is only a first step,” he said. “There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today.”
Cole did not specify how many candidates the White House will consider in the clemency program, though there are currently thousands of inmates serving time in federal prison for just crack cocaine crimes.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney is in charge of advising the White House on the merits of specific cases.

NJ Overturns Unjust Sentencing Law

From: ACLU-NJ

For Immediate Release
December 10, 2009
Judges will now have discretion in sentencing for non-violent offenses

TRENTON — In a landmark victory for civil rights, the New Jersey Senate today passed a bill (S1866) revising a decades-old policy that had punished people more harshly for committing non-violent drug crimes within several hundred feet of schools, unfairly targeting city dwellers. Once signed into law, individual judges will be able to use their discretion to issue fair sentences appropriate to the crimes committed.

“This legislation is smart on crime, not soft on crime. It marks a major step forward toward achieving justice in New Jersey’s criminal justice system,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “New Jersey’s judges will now have authority to sentence people based on the severity of the crime, not the location.”

This legislation overturns the drug-free school zone law, which mandated lengthy sentences for any drug crime committed near a school. As a result, people in New Jersey’s more densely packed areas — for example, cities like Newark, Camden, Jersey City or New Brunswick — have been subject to a stricter standard of justice than those in the suburbs. Over the course of the drug-free school zone policy, 96 percent of those arrested for drug-free school offenses in New Jersey were black or Latino.

The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and will need to vote on it once again to concur with the Senate version. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

This legislation promises fairness not only to New Jersey citizens relying on the criminal justice system, but to taxpayers. New Jersey’s prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded and many non-violent offenders are serving sentences much longer than needed. Judges will be able to decide the appropriate punishments, and New Jerseyans will know that everyone, everywhere across the state has a fairer shot at justice.

Changing this law has been a top priority for the ACLU-NJ over the past decade, in a broad coalition with organizations including the Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association, Latino Leadership Alliance, New Jersey Association on Correction, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley and Women Who Never Give Up. In addition, cities like Newark and Camden have passed resolutions supporting S1866.