President Obama has commuted the sentences of 61 federal drug offenders. The move comes as part of an ongoing effort to reform the criminal justice system, with support from congressional Republicans.
The latest group of prisoners to have their sentences commuted includes Andre Ester of Houston, Curtis Greer of Rosenberg, and Carol Denise Richardson of Texas City. All three were serving sentences of more than 20 years for cocaine trafficking. All are now scheduled for release on July 28.
"President Obama has granted clemency to about 248 people, which is more than all six of his predecessors combined," says Katharine Neill, a postdoctoral fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute. "And that is a big step, but it's also important to keep in mind that over 30,000 people have actually petitioned for this clemency, and there's like 9,000 pending applications."
Sandra Guerra Thompson is director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center. "This is really part of a larger national effort," Thompson says. "Lawmakers are revisiting the extremely long sentences that we had been handing out for non-violent drug offenses. It's extremely expensive, and it's just been shown to be not necessary and really not humane."
Texas Senator John Cornyn is one of the lead sponsors of a bill (S.2123) that would reduce mandatory prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.