Obama’s clemency to 36 Tennesseans: Excessive says Duncan; not enough says Cohen

Three dozen convicted felons in Tennessee have been given a second chance in recent years through commutations and pardons by President Barack Obama. Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen hopes he’ll do more before leaving office on Friday. Republican Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Knoxville says the number already granted seems “excessive.”

So reports Michael Collins. Excerpts:

“There are still so many more people in prison for non-violent offenses like marijuana convictions and due to the crack-cocaine disparity – injustices that deserve clemency,” the Memphis Democrat (Cohen) said. “I’ve been disappointed for several of my constituents who I’ve been advocating for on behalf of their relatives who haven’t received clemency.”

Obama has been much more generous than his predecessors when it comes to using his executive powers to dole out forgiveness…. Obama has commuted the sentences of more inmates than all previous presidents combined. The commutations are part of an effort by the Justice Department to rectify what it sees as overly punitive sentences from the war on drugs.

So far, 36 Tennesseans have seen their sentences reduced by the president, ranking the Volunteer State 11th in the nation in terms of commutations. The state that received the most is Florida, where Obama has reduced the sentences of 190 felons since 2011. Next is Texas, with 123.

… Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., who was a state court judge in Knox County for seven years before he was elected to Congress, agrees that sentencing reform is needed. But he thinks Obama has gone overboard in handing out commutations, most of which have come over the past two years.

…Judges should have some latitude, for example, when sentencing someone who got mixed up in the wrong crowd when they were young and had just limited drug use, Duncan said.

“To put them in the same category with big-time drug dealers is wrong,” he said. But, “I doubt if I had been president I would have done 1,100 commutations in the last two years. That sounds excessive to me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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