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U.S. Justice Department Sets New Clemency Guidelines for Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced new clemency guidelines on 23 April. Under the new guidelines laid out by the U.S. Justice Department, thousands of drug offenders who have served at least ten years of their sentence and are nonviolent could be re-examined by the Justice Department and recommended to the President for clemency. Consequently, thousands of inmates could be eligible for a reduction in their prison time.

The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to trim the country’s prison population and help certain convicts get freedom from the unduly harsh sentences for drug crimes.

Addressing a news conference, Cole said, “These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.” While detailing out the plan, he informed that the most obvious candidates for review will be those sentenced before passing of the Fair Sentencing Act.

Under the U.S. law, the President can reduce sentences or pardon Americans serving sentences for federal crimes. Granting clemency to nonviolent drug offenders is part of the Obama administration’s strategy to reduce spending on federal prisons by cutting the number of inmates serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. Inmates must meet six criteria to be eligible for clemency:



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-          Inmates must have served six years of their federal sentence

-          They must not have a “significant criminal history”

-          They must be “nonviolent, low-level offenders”

-          They must have no “significant ties to major gangs”

-          They must have a record of good conduct in prison

-          They must have no history of violence

The clemency review is part of Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that is reviewing the criminal justice system, and looking for ways to make spending on prisons more efficient by focusing on violent offenders.

The Justice Department has guaranteed any inmate meeting the criteria for clemency review to be offered the assistance of a pro bono attorney to prepare his or her application.

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