President Barack Obama has granted early release to 61 federal drug offenders last March 30 as part of ongoing initiatives to help those who were hit hard by the U.S. war on drugs.

The commutations were part of the clemency granted to 248 federal inmates. More than one-third of the 61 were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The president, who has vowed to address the justice system’s harsh treatment of nonviolent drug offenses, will further grant clemency to inmates who satisfy the justice department’s criteria that was set in 2015, according to White House officials. More than 9,000 petitions for clemency are currently pending.

Certain sentencing reform experts, however, are unimpressed.

“Sixty-one grants, with over 9,000 petitions pending, is not an accomplishment to brag about,” law professor Mark Osler says, citing those who remain waiting were “grievously” over sentenced, became self-reformed, and previously had no violence record.

The justice department’s new pardon attorney, Bob Zauzmer, asserted his goal of looking at every single petition and making the proper recommendations to Obama. In January, former Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff stepped down due to frustration over lacking resources for clemency petition processing.

These clemency efforts can be traced back to 2014, when former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. launched the initiative to grant clemency to specific nonviolent federal drug offenders. To qualify for the program, candidates should have shown good prison conduct, served a minimum of 10 years of their sentence, and have no links to organized crime and groups.

Read the full list of the 61 drug offenders with commuted sentences.

While in a panel at the National Rx Drug Abuse and heroin Summit held in Atlanta last March 29, Obama also touted initiatives to curb the opioid addiction epidemic in the country.

The series of new initiatives, which focus on the problem’s enhanced spread to the middle class, intends to offer easier access to drug-based treatment, widen Medicaid coverage, and improve availability of overdose-averting medications. Its centerpiece is “medication-assisted treatment,” which will expand the use of drugs that block opioids’ effects on the brain and help addicts recover.

Also part of the projected fixes is the creation of a task force to enhance access to substance use and mental health disorder treatment, as well as get medical schools onboard training students in prescribing opioid.

Obama echoed reform advocates’ sentiments of veering away from excessive focus on drug addict arrests. Instead, he said drug addiction should be considered a public health crisis, where experts will analyze the science and data to bring about reforms, educate the public, and reduce deaths.

The government will provide $11 million to 11 states to expand their drug-assisted treatment services, and another $11 million to distribute fast-acting opioid-blocker naloxone, the first response administered to overdosing individuals.

Photo: Simon Brass | Flickr

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.