WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of more than 40 drug offenders as his administration continues its effort to lessen the punishments of non-violent criminals.
Most of the 42 federal prisoners had been convicted for cocaine-related offenses, including distribution and trafficking. Many of those sentences were for life.
Obama has commuted the sentences of 348 people, more than the combined amount issued by his seven predecessors.
Last month, Obama commuted the sentences for 58 people. All but one had been convicted of drug-related crimes.
Ramona Brant had her life sentence commuted by Obama and met with him earlier this year. She told CNN’s Michelle Kosinski that her sentence, for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, was too harsh. When she was convicted in 1994, she left behind her two sons, then 3 and 4, as she went to prison.
“We were sentenced under the drug laws, and it was the war on drugs, so it’s like a POW in your own country,” Brant said. “It takes someone with compassion like the president to see the injustice and right the wrong that was committed to so many of us. And there are so many more that are in the prison system — we want to reach back and pull them out.”
The White House has repeatedly called on Congress to take up criminal justice reform, arguing lengthy prison sentences for non-violent offenders are unduly harsh and outdated.
The issue has made its way into the 2016 election season, with New Jersey governor and former federal prosecutor Chris Christie joining the calls for sentencing reform.
Phillip Emmert also met with Obama earlier this year. His sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine was commuted by President George W. Bush in 2006. Following his release, Emmert used the job training from prison to start work maintaining air-handling systems at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, Iowa.
“I think you’ve got to give people a second chance. You’ve got to give people a chance to see themselves clean up. If you want to help them clean themselves up, where they’re not doing drugs and get a new start in life,” Emmert said.