WASHINGTON, D.C., – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) issues the following statement applauding President Obama’s grant of executive clemency to 46 federal prisoners:
The Lawyers’ Committee applauds President Obama’s decision announced yesterday to commute the unfair and harsh sentences of 46 federal prisoners as part of the President’s historic clemency initiative. Tens of thousands of federal inmates have applied to have their sentences considered for commutation by the President, in an effort designed to help restore justice and fairness to the federal criminal justice system.
Some of those granted clemency yesterday were cases in which clemency was supported by volunteer lawyers through Clemency Project 2014 which was formed to coordinate volunteer attorneys to screen and provide pro bono assistance to those who qualified under the clemency criteria. Over the past year, the Lawyers’ Committee has played a major supporting role to Clemency Project 2014, formed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the Federal Defenders. In furtherance of its mission to mobilize the private bar to engage in civil rights work, the Lawyers’ Committee has helped to recruit and manage over 1,000 attorney volunteers at 60 of the nation’s top law firms participating in the Project.
“The Lawyers’ Committee has been working on a comprehensive level to reform our nation’s criminal justice system and we hope that President Obama’s actions on clemency lead to additional initiatives to end the cycle of mass incarceration in this country,” stated Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House.
The 46 individuals who received clemency grants were convicted under federal drug laws and sentenced to terms of imprisonment significantly longer than they would have received under current law. These laws are now widely recognized as harsh and unjust, and have created extreme racially disparities in practice. Furthermore, holding these individuals in prison keeps them away from their families and communities, costs taxpayers thousands of dollars at no benefit to public safety, and undermines public faith in the criminal justice system. The President’s decision underscores the need for Congress to pass reforms to federal sentencing laws, including eliminating and reducing the application of mandatory minimum sentences. Sentencing reform has garnered the support of a bipartisan coalition of congressional members and the President’s Administration.
The Lawyers’ Committee has been fighting for racial justice and equality for nearly 50 years since its 1963 founding at the request of President John F. Kennedy. The Lawyers’ Committee has long advocated for a fair and equal criminal justice system and has recently reinvigorated its efforts to mobilize the private bar to fight mass incarceration.