Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conyers & Scott: “Obama Administration’s Clemency Initiative a Building Block in Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform”

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced six criteria the Department of Justice will consider when reviewing and expediting clemency applications - for President Obama’s review and approval- from a select group of non-violent individuals behind bars. These petitions will be prioritized for review over other clemency petitions that do not require all six criteria. In addition to announcing the new head of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to increase the numbers of attorneys, with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense, to aid the permanent staff of the Pardon Office during this initiative. After the public announcements, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“For far too long, America’s criminal justice system and policies have tipped the scales of justice in favor of slogans and sound bites over common sense. This approach has locked away our youth and torn apart families; a disproportionate number of which are within minority communities. As a matter of civil rights and basic justice, the Obama Administration has decided to stem the tide on decades of this injustice. The Department of Justice’s decision to expand and expedite the clemency process has the potential to assist thousands of non-violent offenders serving lengthy sentences behind bars who would not be serving such lengthy terms under sentencing laws today. This action builds on the progress that the Judiciary Committee began, in the 111th Congress, in passing the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the arbitrary disparity in drug sentencing.”

“We commend President Obama for taking this historic first step, but in doing so we also call on Congress to lead the way for the United States to see lasting criminal justice reform. While clemency attempts to fix our broken system of mandatory sentencing on the back end - providing relief to a lucky individual plucked from the stack of petitions - it does not repair the unjust system that put thousands of individuals there in the first place. Congress must work to eliminate or greatly reduce mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, and enhance judge’s discretion to avoid disproportionate sentences when mandatory minimums are charged. Again and again studies show that mandatory sentences discriminate against minorities, are ineffective at preventing crime, are inefficient from a cost perspective, and often require judges to impose sentences that violate commonsense. For these reasons, we have a moral obligation to put an end to mandatory sentencing and pass laws with proportional penalties that make sense. Only then will justice truly be restored to an American criminal system gone awry.”

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