DOJ Takes Step Toward Reducing Mass Incarceration with Clemency Initiative

April 23, 2014

The Department of Justice today announced a clemency initiative aimed at easing sentences for all qualified federal inmates. In a recent report, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law called for the DOJ to actively identify all federal prisoners whose sentences would be reduced if the Fair Sentencing Act were retroactively applied to expedite the review of their petitions. Today’s DOJ announcement applies to any federal inmate meeting six defined criteria.

“Thousands of Americans are serving overly harsh prison sentences that are disproportionate to their offenses,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “Expanding the Justice Department's clemency process and providing clear criteria is a smart step toward reducing unnecessary incarceration. It will save taxpayer dollars, return balance to the scales of justice, and most importantly, give many deserving men and women a second chance at life outside of a prison cell.”

“With this initiative, the president is making better use of his clemency powers to reduce our exploding prison population,” added Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “This is an excellent use of executive power by the president. Additional opportunities to use clemency to reduce mass incarceration exist. Specifically, in addition to these important steps forward, the Justice Department should work to identify and seek out the estimated 5,000 Americans who languish in federal prison because they were sentenced before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the unjust sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes. It should then solicit, review, and expedite clemency applications from these prisoners, instead of waiting for them to identify themselves.”

For more on the Brennan Center’s clemency recommendations read the full report, 15 Executive Actions.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Desiree Ramos Reiner at desiree.reiner@nyu.edu or 646-292-8321.