As of Wednesday, August 3rd, President Obama has commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates. At first glance, this number may seem like quite a few, especially accounting the other 348 sentences Obama has commuted during his time as the POTUS. However, with the rising rate of federal prisoners in this country, reaching around 800% since 1980, these 562 commutations are nothing but miniscule steps towards an immense amount of issues that privatized and federal prisons have caused.
The federal prisoners who, now, have a chance to see their families sooner, are all significant to the goal of achieving clemency easier in the United States. In addition, the 67 individuals, who were previously serving life sentences, do not need to fear the idea of never leaving prison. It may seem as if these inmates shouldn’t receive commutations if they had life sentences, for their offenses must have been worthy of such a penalty. However, all 214 of these inmates were charged for non-violent drug offenses. These charges make up 90% of the federal prison population. A direct cause of this percentage is the “War on Drugs”, for it has caused the police force’s priorities to become distorted in such sense that nonviolent drug offenses are now more important than drunk driving offenses.
In fact, most of these non-violent drug offenses are young African Americans who are given an aggrandized criminal record that could hinder their rehabilitation or growth outside of prison. Thus, creating a cycle of imprisonment and an abundance of forced stereotypes among them. Not only do the flaws of the criminal justice system affect those who are imprisoned, but it spreads to American society like a disease. One of the main contributors to the issue-at-hand is the “War on Drugs” and its polarization towards African Americans. As the Sentencing Project has concluded; African Americans nearly serve the same amount of time in prison for a nonviolent drug offense than a caucasian does for a violent offense. How can African Americans represent only 12% of drug users in the United States, yet account for 38% of those charged for drug offenses if the system isn’t biased?
It’s obvious that Obama sees this issue and that there is plenty of talk about reforms to federal prisons and the criminal justice system. However, these issues need to be brought out to the public directly in order for them to actually happen. This can especially be an interesting topic in the upcoming national debates for the presidential election later this year. Hopefully Gary Johnson can make his way to the debate stage to discuss issues like these that cause even more corruption in the federal level and American society as a whole.
By Shane Rickner