A major announcement was made this week by the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. He said that the president would start expanding his use of commutation. In other words, the president will expand his use of clemency and criminal pardons, specifically when it comes to people who were charged with drug crimes.
This announcement comes at a time when the prison system in the U.S. has been increasingly criticized. People who are accused and charged with drug crimes are hit with amazing prison sentences that effectively end their lives -- all for possessing some drugs. Sure, some of these people may have been major drug kingpins, but most are not. But since major drug players and minor drug users are all lumped together simply because they involve drugs, often they all suffer similar consequences.
Drug sentencing has changed over the years, and that is where this announcement is important. People who were charged under old, harsher rules may see their case commutated by the president to reflect the newer, more lenient rules.
However, this doesn't mean the current rules are reasonable or not in need of change. People who are accused of committing drug crimes are often vilified and aggressively prosecuted. They are often hit with a litany of charges, many of which may seem interchangeable or the same. Seemingly this is done simply because it's the way it has been done for so many years. But the concept that throwing massive punishments at people will somehow stop people from using or selling drugs simply hasn't worked. And really when you think about it, that concept was a pipe dream anyway.
Nuanced, well-thought-out punishments should be the way forward in the criminal justice system. Doling out decade-long sentences to drug criminals like they are candy won't fix anything.
Source: Politico, "Holder: Obama to dramatically expand drug clemency," Josh Gerstein, April 21, 2014