Read the PDF version here.
A broad coalition of criminal justice reform advocates, former judges and prosecutors, and legal scholars urged President Obama today to expand the number of people eligible for clemency by considering commutations for broad categories of non-violent offenders. The coalition, which includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, JustLeadershipUSA, the Sentencing Project, #cut50, and the musician and activist John Legend, cited uncertainty surrounding the next administration’s commitment to criminal justice reform in urging President Obama to go beyond his current clemency initiative.
“While your administration continues to review individual petitions, we urge you to also determine that nonviolent offenders in certain extremely low-risk categories either deserve expedited review or should be granted clemency absent an individualized review,” the group wrote in the letter. “With time running short on your time in office, these steps would be a way for you to deliver lasting change for thousands of deserving individuals and their families.”
The group praised the president for his clemency initiative, through which he has commuted the sentences of over 1,000 incarcerated individuals, and urged him to consider several categories of individuals to whom he could grant sweeping commutations.
“With a stroke of your pen, you could change the lives of thousands of individuals and their families and write a legacy that will stand throughout history,” the group wrote. “We do not know whether the next president will support clemency efforts or criminal justice reform. But we do know that until January 20, you alone have the power to deliver both mercy and justice to those who deserve it.”
The full text of the letter is below.
November 29, 2016
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We have strongly supported your initiative to grant clemency to incarcerated individuals, and we applaud your efforts to review as many petitions as possible before you leave office. We know how important this issue is to you, and with time running short, we know your team is working overtime to commute the sentences of as many worthy individuals as possible.
However, in the interest of justice, we hope you will consider additional steps that would expand the number of individuals eligible for relief. While your administration continues to review individual petitions, we urge you to also determine that nonviolent offenders in certain extremely low-risk categories either deserve expedited review or should be granted clemency absent an individualized review. With time running short on your time in office, these steps would be a way for you to deliver lasting change for thousands of deserving individuals and their families.
For example, your administration could make sure that you have given consideration to all of the people who did not get the benefit of retroactivity under the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, including those who filed late or did not file for clemency. The U.S. Sentencing Commission staff could identify these individuals and DOJ could use prison placement (to a camp – the lowest level of federal incarceration – or to a low or medium facility) as a surrogate for how an individual has behaved in prison. There is bipartisan agreement that pre-Fair Sentencing Act crack sentences are unjust and have disproportionately affected people of color, but there is no mechanism for addressing that injustice outside of clemency.
People who have received sentences in narcotic cases involving other drugs besides crack who through good behavior worked their way down to placement in a camp or low or medium facility could receive similar consideration. You could also give special priority to veterans and older individuals and could consider granting relief to individuals who have been labeled as career offenders who have only narcotics as a triggering offense, a group that the Sentencing Commission recently urged Congress to treat differently because of their lower rates of recidivism and less culpable conduct. Similarly, those individuals who have received double mandatory minimum sentences where the individual has only drug convictions are calling out for relief. As you have done with some individual petitions, you would not necessarily need to commute entire sentences, but could provide tiered relief to ensure people serving overly punitive sentences for drug crimes have the opportunity for release once they have paid a reasonable debt to society. Such relief could also be structured to ensure no drug offender except those convicted of the most serious kingpin cases serves a sentence of more than twenty years.
With a stroke of your pen, you could change the lives of thousands of individuals and their families and write a legacy that will stand throughout history. The Constitution envisions precisely this kind of corrective against undue severity in the law.
We do not know whether the next president will support clemency efforts or criminal justice reform. But we do know that until January 20, you alone have the power to deliver both mercy and justice to those who deserve it. We hope you will seize this opportunity.
Glenn E. Martin
Founder & President, JustLeadershipUSA
President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Executive Director, the Sentencing Project
Co-founder of #cut50 & President of The Dream Corps
Musician and Activist, #FREEAMERICA
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Convener, Justice Roundtable; Advocacy Director for Criminal Justice, Open Society Foundations
Executive Director, Justice Policy Institute
Executive Director, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Amy Ralston Povah
President, CAN-DO Foundation
Founder, Crack Open the Door
Life for Pot
Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org
President & Founder, the Daniel Initiative
Rev. Ron Stief
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
National Center for Transgender Equality
The Aleph Institute
Celebrities For Justice
Brittany Byrd & Jessica Jackson Sloan#cut50
Artist and Activist
Families for Justice as Healing
National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
The Honorable Nancy Gertner
Senior Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School; former Judge, U.S. District Court of Massachusetts
Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship & Professor of Law, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific
Professor of Law, Texas A&M School of Law
Tamar R. Birckhead
Visiting Clinical Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Stephen B. Bright
Harvey Karp Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School
Carol A. Brook, on behalf of the Federal Defender Program for the Northern District of Illinois
Professor of Law; Director, Family Law Practice Clinic; CUNY School of Law
Gabriel J. Chin
Edward L. Barrett Chair & Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law
Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School
Assistant Professor of Law, UCLA Law School
Associate Professor, American University Washington College of Law
Angela J. Davis
Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law
Maurice R. Dyson
Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Professor of Law, UCLA Law School
Malcolm M. Feeley
Claire Sanders Clements Dean’s Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
Georgia State University College of Law, Retired
Bernard E. Harcourt
Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and Director, Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, Columbia Law School
Paula C. Johnson
Professor of Law, Syracuse University College of Law
Assistant Professor, Queens Law
Justin D. Levinson
Professor of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law
Amelia D. Lewis Professor of Constitutional & Criminal Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
Assistant Professor of Law, Vanderbilt Law School
Tracey L. Meares
Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Daniel S. Medwed
Professor of Law and Faculty Director of Professional Development, Northeastern University School of Law
Professor of Law and Co-Director, Criminal Justice Clinic, American University Washington College of Law
Eric J. Miller
Professor of Law, Loyola Law School
Associate Professor and Program Director, Criminology & Criminal Justice Graduate Program, Merrimack College
Mark OslerProfessor and Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law, University of St. Thomas School of Law
Practitioner-in-Residence, Civil Advocacy Clinic, American University Washington College of Law
Ira P. Robbins
Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law
Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School
University of Florida, Levin College of Law
Cathy Lisa Schneider
Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University
Joanna C. Schwartz
Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
Professorial Lecturer, American University School of Public Affairs
Robert J. Smith
Director, Fair Punishment Project, Harvard Law School.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.
Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School
Carol S. Steiker
Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director, Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School
Associate Research Scholar in Law, Arthur Liman Public Interest Program Director, and Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School
Carlos A. Williams
Federal Defender, Southern District of Alabama Federal Defenders
*Academic institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.