WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) issued the following statement following President Obama’s granting of clemency to 95 federal prisoners:
The Lawyers’ Committee applauds President Obama’s decision to commute the unfairly harsh sentences of 95 federal prisoners as part of the President’s historic clemency initiative. The tremendous impact on the lives of these 95 individuals cannot be understated. Many were serving life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses under federal sentencing laws that created unjustified and extreme racial disparities. Now these men and women, sisters and brothers, will have the opportunity to return to their families and communities and become productive members of society.
“President Obama’s grants today are laudable, but they must only be the beginning,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Almost two years after the creation of the new clemency initiative, 36,000 federal prisoners have applied, and to date, less than 200 have received clemency. The Obama Administration needs to intensify its efforts in its last year and grant clemency to the many more deserving individuals who have applied. President Obama should also consider proposals from experts to reform the clemency process itself.”
Twenty-seven of the 95 cases were represented by attorneys volunteering with Clemency Project 2014 which was formed to coordinate volunteer lawyers 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 in Clemency Project 2014, formed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 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 1,400 attorney volunteers at 65 of the nation’s top law firms participating in the project.
The President’s decision today also highlights the imperative for Congress to act to reverse mass incarceration and remedy the injustices it has created. The federal prison system remains the largest in our country, which in turn claims the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Racial disparities persist at every level of the criminal justice system. Unduly lengthy and counterproductive sentencing laws are largely to blame.
“Legislation to reform these laws have drawn unprecedented bipartisan support, such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, S. 2123, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in October,” said Greenbaum. “The House Judiciary Committee passed a similar bill reforming federal sentencing laws in November. Both chambers need to bring these bills to the floor as soon as possible in 2016.”
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. Read our recent report, Unequal Justice: Mobilizing the Private Bar to Fight Mass Incarceration.