WASHINGTON, D.C. -The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issues the following statement applauding President Obama’s grant of executive clemency to 22 federal prisoners:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) applauds President Obama’s decision announced today to commute the unfair and harsh sentences of 22 federal prisoners. It is a promising first step in the President’s historic clemency initiative designed to help restore justice and fairness to the federal criminal justice system.
Some of those granted clemency today were cases in which clemency was supported by volunteer lawyers through Clemency Project 2014. Clemency Project 2014 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, which was 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 almost 900 attorney volunteers at 60 of the nation’s top law firms participating in the Project.
The 22 individuals who will have their sentences commuted 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 also underscores the need for Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, which would help repair these unjust sentences. It 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.