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Friday, December 20, 2013

Obama Commutes Sentences For 8 Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Prisoners reach through the bars at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., Jan. 18, 2008. Sometimes they use small mirrors to get a glimpse of their neighbors and the correctional officers. (AP)

President Obama has reduced the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses. (AP)

President Obama has reduced the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses, most of whom were in prison for life.

The president said the men and women were sentenced under an unfair system that treated crack cocaine far more harshly than powder cocaine. If sentenced under today’s drug laws, they would have likely received shorter terms.

Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has been advocating for sentencing reforms and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the issue.

Interview Highlights: Vanita Gupta

On harsh sentences for people low on the totem pole

“Oftentimes what happens in these situations is that these women who are serving as mules — and this happens with men as well — when they are kind of the lowest folks on the totem pole of the drug trade, have nothing to trade in to law enforcement to get a sentence reduction. And so they are often getting longer sentences than those higher up in the food chain of a particular drug market who have a lot of information.”

On the Fair Sentencing Act

“The Fair Sentencing Act — which took 18 years to pass and is the first time that Congress has ever reduced a federal mandatory minimum penalty — did finally seek to address the gross racial disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. … The enormity of the elevation of the length of the sentence for crack cocaine was just so severe. … What the Fair Sentencing Act represented, was a time to kind of — you know, when the volume was turned down, and crime rates had been on a decline — to really bring evidence to bear on sentencing regimes, particularly as impacted black and brown communities.”

On recognizing flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system

“There is a changing tide in this country around our criminal justice system. I think there is a much greater — and I would say bipartisan — recognition that what we have been doing for 40 years has been ineffective, has had a tremendous human and financial cost, and frankly has not ended or limited our drug supply any much more. So there has been a lot of significant changes.”


  • Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the ACLU and director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • ClaraThomas

    What have you done lately for Leonard Peltier, Mr. Obama?
    When will your attorney general Eric Holder look into this case and see now Mr. Peltier was framed?

  • it_disqus

    I agree with the President on this one.

  • Sands Pippen

    Again the whitepeople realize what they have been doing WAS ENTIRELY WRONG AND PREJUDICIAL …. Just like everything else in their society! .. Another 20 yrs down the road we will be hearing this again, and again … Since the time they arrived here by boat – just like all the other immigrants that arrive here by boat – but these immigrants (“americans”) like to call down anyone else coming here by boat – which is paramount to the “calling the kettle black” will again realize what they have been doing WAS WRONG!, but by that time they will have destroyed the planet and
    everyone else on it .. by their greed and stupidity!

  • Chrisitne Holmén

    why are you deny the human right of Leonard Peltier, Mr. Obama?
    I thought you where a big fan of Mandela he also spend 27 year in prison just because he was a free Spirit! Please give Justice for once a chance! Tank you!

  • jamessimon500

    Framed? Leonard Peltier was convicted of aiding and abetting the murders of
    Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams in a jury trial in 1977. Peltier’s
    appeals has been heard and analyzed in several USDC opinions and 6 major
    Appellate Court opinions in 2 separate circuits. All judgments against
    him have been unanimous. Peltier’s 2009 parole board summed it up: “…
    the greater probability is that you yourself fired the fatal shots… It
    would be unjust to treat the slaying of these F.B.I. agents, while they
    lay wounded and helpless, as if your actions had been part of a gun
    battle….” Peltier has been caught in several lies, the latest one
    concerning his main alibi, Mr. X, a story Peltier’s own lawyer, Mike
    Kuzma, finally admitted was a “concoction.” The evidence in the murder case of
    Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (resulting in 2 convictions, 2004 and 2010)
    produced more incriminating evidence against Peltier, including his
    boast about killing Ron Williams, shot in the face at point-blank range with, as all judges have concluded, Peltier’s AR-15 assault rifle. It’s
    time for Peltier to stop playing the victim and start accepting
    responsibility for his actions, and ask forgiveness from his
    victims’ families. It’s also time for his fans to smell a rat.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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