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Clemency That Counts

Jeff Campbell

Posted on June 10, 2018 07:44

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If you're friends or associates of the president, and have been in trouble, clemency may come your way based on recent events.

People may mock and hate on President Trump and even Kim Kardashian West, but the recent commutation of Alice Marie Johnson’s prison sentence was a long time coming and it would be nice if this was just the beginning of a comprehensive prison reform effort.

Alice Marie Johnson was serving life without parole for a first time non-violent drug conviction. To be clear, she was not a simple dealer. She was convicted of participating in an operation which included money laundering and conspiracy offenses. But those that were also part of the operation agreed to testify against her and received anywhere from 10 years to no jail time at all. There is really no logic, then, to her serving life without parole. Murderers can and have received lessor sentences.

Opposing sides argue over the actual statistics of non-violent drug offenders behind bars and how the war on drugs has adversely affected minorities, but even the Department of Justice’s own statistics show that more than 35% of drug offenders being housed in federal prisons had minimal or no prior criminal history at sentencing. All sides agree that there are too many non-violent offenders in our prison systems.

Another case that both liberals and conservatives are pushing for President Trump to act on is concerning Matthew Charles. He was released from prison in 2016 after serving 21 years of his 35-year sentence as part of President Obama’s retroactive sentencing reduction efforts. While in prison, Charles turned his life around, becoming a law clerk and GED instructor. After release, he became a model citizen, gaining long-term employment while still finding time for volunteer work.

This was up until the time when US Attorney’s Office prosecutors started proceedings to put him back in jail as he was considered a “career offender.” Even a Federal Judge asked the US Attorney’s office to drop their efforts considering Matthew Charles’ “undisputed rehabilitation.” Unfortunately, a Federal Appeals Court agreed, that by the letter of the law, Mr. Charles should not have been released, and he is back in prison. It’s ridiculous, and hopefully President Trump will correct this situation.

I see two big reasons for these and hundreds, if not thousands of other similar situations. One, we have state and national politicians that perpetually run on a “tough on crime” platform which leads to idiotic one size fits all laws that take individual circumstances and situational judgement out of the equation. Hopefully, all sides are waking up to the absurdity of such practices.

Secondly, on our local levels we have over-zealous Commonwealth and District attorneys that are eager to prosecute and convict anything that breathes, in efforts to gain more prestigious positions and to build political careers. They carry those traits throughout their career progression with a blatant disregard for realistic and compassionate public safety efforts, and, as a result, thousands of could-be productive citizens needlessly sit behind bars, waiting, for some systemic reform and common sense to prevail.

Jeff Campbell

Posted on June 10, 2018 07:44

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