On Monday, President Obama announced the results of his war on unjust sentences and the incarceration of large numbers of low-level, non-violent drug offenders. Now in the seventh year of his presidency, he has added just 46 federal felons to the list of those whose sentences he has commuted.
The New York Times tried to help, claiming that Obama has now commuted more sentences “than the last four presidents combined.” But the proper category for presidential clemency is the combination of pardons and commutations.
More “clemency” than “the last four Presidents combined?" That’s a misrepresentation: the number of pardons and commutations of previous presidents are far greater; Nixon had more than 900 total; Obama has 153--(Clinton had 457, Reagan 406, and George W. Bush, 200).
And just who is Obama releasing? Not “low-level, drug-possession offenders” or marijuana users. No, he is releasing crack dealers, cocaine dealers, and methamphetamine dealers. Most of the 46 were crack cocaine distributors, some convicted of dealing more than 10 pounds of crack.
Moreover, some of these felony drug dealers were also convicted of a gun crime, such as, “possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense.”
So, President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder attacked the entire American criminal justice system, charging that large numbers of individuals were routinely imprisoned for non-violent drug possession. And after months of searching they have found no such individuals—none. But they will release a tiny group of convicted drug dealers and armed felons.
Before responsible Republicans and Democrats are stampeded into more of the Obama agenda on crime, they should look closely at these 46 examples of the true size of the problem and actual criminal histories they are asked to ignore. And if they care about the victims of crime—past, present, and future—they will stand against President Obama’s agenda on crime and punishment.
John P. Walters directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research and was President George W. Bush’s Director of Drug Control Policy.