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Justice Department reveals details of plan for clemency for some drug offenders

Deputy Attorney General James Cole says fair law enforcement means correcting the mistakes of the past, including long prison terms for some drug offenders.
By Frances Burns   |   April 23, 2014 at 11:57 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 23 (UPI) -- Non-violent offenders serving long drug sentences will be provided with lawyers to help them win clemency, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.

At a news conference, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said those eligible for clemency will have to meet stringent requirements, including having served at least 10 years in prison. He said they must also have no records of violence before or after their convictions, have no ties to organized crime, must not have long criminal records, have good prison records and must be serving long prison terms that would likely be shorter under current guidelines.

In 2010, President Obama signed legislation eliminating the significantly longer sentences given those convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine. Cole said the Clemency Initiative is not limited to inmates convicted of crack crimes, although one of its goals is to provide fair sentences to those sentenced under the old law.

"The fundamental American concept, equal justice under law, requires that our laws be enforced fairly -- and not just going forward, but it is equally important that we extend this fairness to those who are already serving prison sentences for their crimes," he said.

Cole said the administration plans to devote "significant time and resources" to identifying inmates eligible for clemency and ensuring their speedy release. He said all federal prison inmates will be notified for the program and those who apply and appear to meet the criteria will be given free legal counsel.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act was not enough: “There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime -- and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime.”

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