Today, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates serving lengthy time behind bars for nonviolent offenses related to crack cocaine under an older sentencing regime. This decision follows the implementation in 2011 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, landmark criminal justice legislation that reduced mandatory minimum sentences for crack offenses and minimized the arbitrary disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Ranking member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.), were both the primary sponsors of this legislation in the House of Representatives. In addition, they wrote to President Obama in May of 2012 about the mishandling of Clarence Aaron's application for clemency by the U.S. Pardon Attorney's office and pointed out the injustice of his situation. Clarence Aaron is one of the eight individuals whose sentence was commuted today. Reps. Conyers and Scott issued the following statement in response to the news:
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): "After decades of criminal and racial injustice in our drug sentencing policies, Congress took action in 2010 to counter these regressive trends by passing the Fair Sentencing Act. This legislation reduced the arbitrary disparity between harsh sentences for crack cocaine offenders versus those sentenced for powder cocaine offenses. However, many individuals sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act being signed into law remain unfairly behind bars today. Today, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight such individuals serving excessive sentences. As we work in Congress to bring fairness and justice back into our criminal justice laws, I welcome this step by the President. "
Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.): "Today, President Obama commuted the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under unfair sentencing laws. Commuting these sentences was the right thing to do. But eight commutations does not fix a broken system. Congress must enact sentencing reform measures such as H.R. 3382, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would allow courts to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases by allowing courts to resentence defendants consistent with the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, and H.R. 1695, the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would give judges authority to sentence offenders below the mandatory minimums if those mandatory sentences would be unjust. Congress should pass these bills next year so we can begin to fix the failed sentencing system."