In a continuing move towards rationality in federal criminal law, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced a new clemency program for certain offenders serving time in the federal system. Under the program, the DOJ will review thousands of cases, mostly involving drug offenders, and recommend many prisoners to the president as candidates for executive clemency. The DOJ announced that the program would cover the following types of inmates:
(1) inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today;
(2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels;
(3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence;
(4) do not have a significant criminal history;
(5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison;
and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
It remains to be seen how the program will play out, but it has the potential to offer a second chance to thousands of federal inmates who were sentenced under punitive laws–most particularly laws relating to crack cocaine–that have now been revised.