President Barack Obama has again appropriately used the power of his office to grant clemency to federal offenders serving outsized sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. But the work is not done. Thousands of inmates with similar circumstances continue to languish behind bars and deserve the same opportunity for a reset.
The president announced last week that he was commuting the sentences of 61 federal prisoners, more than one-third of whom were serving life sentences for crimes involving drugs or firearms. Eleven of the prisoners are from Florida, including Anthony Lee Lewis, a 50-year-old man from Tampa who was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for the possession and sale of cocaine and illegally possessing a firearm. Lewis’ punishment was handed down during the drug wars of the 1990s, when the government established unfair mandatory minimum sentences designed to quash the illegal drug trade.
The president has kept his promise to work to reform the country’s criminal justice system. With Wednesday’s action, Obama has issued 248 commutations, more than the last six presidents combined. But it is not enough. Nearly 10,000 inmates have submitted clemency petitions that have not been processed. The federal pardons office is badly in need of more resources to handle the backlog. The president should make sure it has what it needs. Congress also should get serious about criminal justice reform and pass laws that create more just sentences.