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Justice Dept. Seeks To Expand Clemency For Some Drug Offenders

The Department of Justice is looking to expand the number of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders considered for presidential clemency.

As The New York Times reports, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole told lawyers at a meeting of the New York State Bar Association on Thursday to flag potential candidates.

"There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today," Cole said. "This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system."

You may recall that about a month ago, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people convicted of drug crimes. Obama said if those people had been sentenced after the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, they would have already served their time.

That piece of legislation sought to even out the time given to those convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine with those convicted of crimes involving cocaine in powder form.

Crack cocaine offenses used to be treated much more harshly than powder cocaine.

The Associated Press, citing Cole, reports that as part of the new effort, "the federal Bureau of Prisons will begin advising inmates of the opportunity to apply for sentence commutations."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.