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Statement on Clemency

December 19, 2013

Three years ago, I signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which dramatically narrowed the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late. If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.

Today I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system. Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison. In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime.

Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness. But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.

NOTE: The statement referred to Clarence Aaron of Mobile, AL; Stephanie Y. George of Pensacola, FL; Ezell Gilbert of Tampa, FL; Helen R. Alexander Gray of Ty Ty, GA; Jason Hernandez of McKinney, TX; Ricky E. Patterson of Fort Pierce, FL; Billy Ray Wheelock of Belton, TX; and Reynolds A. Wintersmith, Jr., of Rockford, IL.

Barack Obama, Statement on Clemency Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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