Convener’s Corner | December 2016
Taifa pensive

Dec. 7, 2016

“Commutations – the fierce urgency of now”

There is unprecedented momentum appealing to President Obama to go bold in granting commutations, and for good reason — there is the fierce urgency of now. The clock is running out on commutations as President-elect Trump prepares to assume power on January 20th. Despite the Obama Administration’s exceptional clemency initiative which, to date, has brought relief to over 1000 petitioners, thousands more await relief. Luckily, those with life sentences who hit the clemency jackpot receive the windfall of release; yet those who don’t win remain saddled with a death sentence because there is no parole in the federal system.

Last month the African American Mayors Association, in a unique move, wrote a letter to the President that they would welcome back to their communities all those who no longer present a threat to society, particularly those who have aged in prison, and women. Recently, I was one of over 50 signees to a letter likewise appealing to President Obama to expand the categories of petitioners eligible for relief, thereby leaving “a legacy that will stand throughout history.” The letter’s expanded criteria included those still languishing in prison despite the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act; those convicted of drug offenses who have been placed in lower security institutions signaling a lack of threat to society; elders and veterans; and providing a reasonable date for release for those serving overly punitive sentences for drug crimes. All this can be accomplished by the stroke of the presidential pen.

The 50-day countdown has begun. In light of an upcoming Administration that appears unsympathetic to those who once broke the law — no matter how much they and laws may have changed — and the prospect of an Attorney General inimical to bipartisan legislation that would have addressed archaic and lengthy drug sentences, President Obama is the prisoner’s only hope, particularly those whose cells will become coffins because of their life without parole drug sentences.

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