A few months ago I was channel surfing and ended up landing on “Fixing the System,” an HBO documentary which highlighted the need for prison reform. It’s a real issue – America holds 22 percent of the world’s prisoners, while we only make up slightly over 4 percent of the world population. And it’s not like we’re an extraordinarily violent nation that would justify this.
The documentary showcased the stories of many nonviolent drug offenders who are on track to spend their lives in prison due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Obama makes an appearance on the documentary, speaking with some prisoners.
From a fiscally conservative point of view, I wasn’t against the president’s opinion on this. Why spend over $30,000 a year to house prisoners who pose a harm only to themselves? We don’t need to provide daycare for adults.
So when Obama announced he would be commuting the sentences of prisoners, I expected it to be in line with what I saw in “Fixing the System” — that someone who made a mistake in their youth using drugs would be given another chance to contribute to society.
Of course, my hopes were set a bit too high.
As the Daily Caller reports, “President Barack Obama announced two pardons and 95 commutations Friday afternoon, with the vast majority of his clemency going to dealers of crack cocaine.
The grant of clemency, timed to coincide with the Christmas holiday, is the largest such grant of Obama’s presidency, and takes the total number of sentences he’s commuted up to 184. The grant comes on the heels of 46 commutations Obama issued last July.
More than 40 of the commutations are for life sentences, and most of the beneficiaries will be released in April.
Despite the large number of commutations, a look at the list of beneficiaries reveal there is very little variety in the crimes they committed. For 72 of them, one of their offenses was trafficking in cocaine, and of these, all but a handful were specifically convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine (often described as “cocaine base” in criminal law).
Nine others were trafficking methamphetamine exclusively, and four others had only marijuana-related offenses. Nineteen had firearms offenses of some kind, mostly for illegal possession or for carrying a weapon while committing a drug crime.”
And of course the White House had to try to make this sound admirable.
“In a White House blog post Friday the Obama administration said commutations mean the president has shortened sentences for more people than the past five presidents combined. While that’s true, it’s largely because earlier presidents have strongly preferred full pardons over commutations.
Obama has so far granted fewer than 70 pardons, far below the pace set by earlier presidents. George W. Bush, for instance, pardoned 189 people, Bill Clinton pardoned 396, and George H.W. Bush pardoned 74, even though he served just a single term.”
The only silver lining to this is that it gives us some ammunition in the gun control debate. Next time Obama lectures the American public on gun control, ask why guns are okay for drug dealers but not for regular American citizens.
[Note: This article was written by The Analytical Economist]