President Obama headed to the El Reno federal prison on July 16th as part of his two-day visit in Oklahoma—a historical move since it was the first time for any sitting president to visit a federal correctional facility. At the event, the President drew attention to many of the failings of the country’s current federal sentencing guidelines, which often puts non-violent offenders at risk for spending years incarcerated. As a criminal
in Raleigh, I am all too familiar with unwarranted sentences that simply do not fit the crime.
Overcrowding: A Common Scenario in Prison
The overcrowding of correctional facilities is evidence enough that many sentences for nonviolent offenders are excessive. President Obama seemed surprised to see that “three grown men” shared a standard 9-by-10-feet cell with just the bare amenities. Obama states that he will make it a priority to address this issue during his final days in office.
Are Nonviolent Offenders Getting Punished Too Severely?
Aided by security personnel, the President sat down with six non-violent offenders for an extended conversation about their experience with the criminal justice system. Obama noted that the prisoners were mostly young men who had made mistakes similar to those he made in his youth. The President shared that these youths should be afforded the same type of support structure and resources that he had.
Many people in prison (Federal prison in particular) are serving years or decades for committing non-violent drug crimes. These sentences were based on standardized guidelines (the so-called “mandatory minimum” sentencing laws), which the President and other legislators now wish to reform.
And it is about time.
At the moment, the U.S. spends $80 billion a year to perpetuate this mass incarceration system; money which could be better spent on things like education, drug treatment and healthcare. Commutation of drug crime sentences would substantially reduce that sum. This does not apply to any form of violent crime, however, and the President pointed out that he is not calling for reduced sentenced for those found guilty of violent crimes like murder and rape.
In the meantime, the mandatory minimum sentencing laws continue to affect non-violent offenders in a way that ruins lives and leaves families struggling to adapt. Previously convicted offenders facing new charges should seek the help of a committed and experienced criminal defense attorney with Kurtz & Blum to guide him/her through the proceedings to minimize the potential risk to their liberty.
Source: Obama, in Oklahoma, Takes Reform Message to the Prison Cell Block, The New York Times, July 16, 2015)
President Obama Heads to Prison in Pursuit of Criminal Justice Reform, Vice News
What are Mandatory Minimums?, FAMM