Last week, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal drug offenders, four of whom would have otherwise died behind bars. In a statement, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that all eight were “non-violent, low-level offenders who have no significant criminal history nor ties to gangs or organized crime.” They’ve all been incarcerated for at least a decade and haven’t had any major disciplinary infractions in that time.
The Associated Press referred to it as “a step that could lead to a vast expansion of presidential clemency in his final two years in office.” For prison reform advocates, this is undoubtedly a good sign.
With all the inmates in the bloated federal prison system, how does the White House select which ones to release? The AP explained: “The White House said the eight new commutations Obama granted were for prisoners who likely would receive a substantially lower sentence today and would have already served their time. For example, they include Barbara Scrivner, who was sentenced to 30 years in 1995 when she was 27 years old for a minor role in her husband’s meth ring. Obama ordered her sentence to expire June 12, while others will expire April 15.” These inmates were selected out of more than 6,500 applicants this year alone. In his first term, Obama only commuted on drug sentence, although with this last round of commutations the total is up to 18.
The newly released offenders will still have the convictions on their records; a commutation doesn’t erase the crime but merely reduces the sentence. A pardon, on the other, completely erases the conviction and is usually issued after the sentence has already been served.
Just what were the initial crimes of conviction and the sentences? Here’s an overview of the basics:
Sidney Earl Johnson, Jr. of Alabama was doing life for possession of crack, conspiracy to distribute crack, and use of a communication facility to commit a felony (yes, that last one is for real). He will be released on June 12 after serving 21 years.
Cathy Lee Jones of Virginia was doing 21 years for conspiracy to possess heroin and crack with the intent to distribute. (Note, she wasn’t actually sentenced for having the drug, but for trying to procure it.) She will be released on April 15 after serving 12 years.
Rickey Marcell McCall of Alabama was doing life for possession of crack and possession of a firearm by a felon. He will be released on April 15 after serving 14 years.
Larry Nailor was convicted of possession with intent to distribute approximately 50 grams — just under two ounces — of crack cocaine. He had been serving a life sentence since 1997 and will be released on April 15.
Jennifer Regenos of Iowa was serving 20 years for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. She will be released on April 15 after serving 13 years.
Antonio Gromyko Reeves was serving 15 years for distribution of five grams or more of crack. He has been incarcerated since 2004 and will be released on April 15.
Barbara Lammsies Scrivner of Oregon — the woman mentioned earlier — was serving 30 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. She has been incarcerated since 1995 and will be released on June 12.
Israel Abel Torres was convicted of conspiracy to possess cocaine base and was serving a life sentence. She has been incarcerated since 1998 and will be released on April 15.