Obama Official Unveils Clemency Initiative
A top official of the Justice Department Thursday enlisted the help of the New York bar to draft clemency petitions for prison inmates serving inordinately long sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
"We envision that attorneys will assist potential candidates in assembling effective and appropriate commutation petitions— ones which provide a focused presentation of the information the department and the president need to consider—in order to meaningfully consider clemency for similarly situated petitioners," Deputy Attorney General James Cole told members of the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association at the group's annual meeting.
Cole said the prerequisites for the enhanced clemency consideration are that offenders have clean prison records, do not pose a threat to public safety if released and are facing life or near-life sentences that would be excessive under current law.
The New York state bar was the first the Justice Department was approaching with the new initiative, said Cole.
The initiative grows out of President Barack Obama's decision to grant executive clemency to eight drug offenders last month and the administration's belief that there are others serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses who could be living productive lives outside federal prisons, Cole said (See Clemency Statistics, 1900-Current).
In an interview before his speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, Cole said it is unclear how many offenders should merit serious consideration for clemency.
"That's why we are asking the [New York] bar association and other groups for help," he said.
During his speech, Cole said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will also make more information about executive clemency available to the 216,000 inmates in the federal prison system and inform them when private attorneys or bar groups have come forward to offer their assistance in making clemency applications.
Cole said it is bad corrections policy to keep some inmates incarcerated for extremely long drug sentences if their crimes were not violent and they were not drug-selling kingpins.