(New York, NY)—The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. applauds President Obama’s decision to commute the sentences of eight people currently serving harsh and inflated prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses.  The individuals were the first to have their sentences commuted by the President since the announcement of the Clemency Initiative, which was created by the Department of Justice to provide relief to non-violent, low level offenders without significant criminal histories who had served at least 10 years in prison. 

“We are extremely pleased that President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight nonviolent drug offenders and hopeful that he will continue the work of remedying an unfair drug sentencing regime—one that has destroyed individuals, families and communities for far too long,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel.

In acknowledgment of the stark racial disparities and inequities embedded in drug sentencing, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) in 2010 to reduce the unfair, arbitrary, unjustified, and racially discriminatory crack cocaine/powder cocaine sentencing ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. Vincent Southerland, Senior Counsel at LDF, presented oral argument last year before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court, urging the court to apply the FSA’s new 18-to-1 crack-powder cocaine sentencing ratio to those still serving sentences under the old, unfair 100-to-1 ratio.

“Excessive sentencing has devastated African American communities around the country and has resulted in dislocation and economic destabilization, as well as broken family and community ties.  Severe federal sentences were emblematic of a misguided war-on-drugs, and have inflicted unfair punishments on people, predominately people of color, for issues–like drug addiction–that are more appropriately addressed by public health measures. These commutations take a step toward repairing those harms,” said Southerland.