Clemency

Obama Granted Clemency to 231 Inmates Monday. Here is One of Their Stories

Cheryl Howard received life in prison for crack cocaine. On Monday, her daughter found out she is coming home.

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Cheryl Howard and her daughter Lavithia // CAN-DO

Lavithia Howard was Christmas shopping on Monday when a friend called to let her know her mom's name was on the list.

In this case, there was only one list she could be talking about: the list of names of federal inmates whose sentences had been commuted by the president. Howard, who had become too familiar with the inscrutable whims of the federal prison system to trust anything secondhand, had to check for herself before she would let herself believe.

"Waiting for so long and praying so hard for it to happen, you got to make sure it really happened," she says.

But there it was. Cheryl Howard was among the 153 federal inmates who had their sentences commuted by President Obama on Monday. In addition, Obama pardoned 78 more sentences, setting a single-day record for clemency actions by a U.S. president.

Monday's announcement by the White House brings Obama's total number of commutations to 1,176 since his administration launched a large-scale clemency campaign in 2014 to identify federal inmates serving time for nonviolent drug crimes who would be good candidates for reduced sentences.

With the end of the Obama presidency approaching and a long list of pending clemency petitions still remaining, criminal justice advocacy groups have been urging the White House to consider mass commutations for nonviolent drug offenders.

"With fewer than five weeks left in his term, President Obama has once again commuted the unnecessarily extreme sentences of scores of federal prisoners," Cynthia Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014, said in statement on Monday. "There is still one month remaining, and many pending petitions awaiting action, for the President to continue and accelerate this important work. I trust he will do so."

However, there have been no indications so far the Obama administration will radically change course.

White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote on the White House blog Monday that President Obama "continues to review clemency applications on an individualized basis to determine whether a particular applicant has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance, and I expect that the President will issue more grants of both commutations and pardons before he leaves office."

It's a much more urgent matter for the families of inmates with pending clemency petitions, who are now worried that their window of opportunity is about to slam shut with the incoming Donald Trump presidency.

Trump criticized Obama's commutation efforts on the campaign trail. "Some of these people are bad dudes," Trump said of clemency recipients at a campaign rally in August. "And these are people who are out, they're walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."

I met Lavithia Howard at a candlelight vigil outside the White House in November, where family members of inmates had gathered to urge Obama to ramp up his commutation efforts.

"Some people may be negative about Trump. I didn't vote for Trump, but when you think negative you get negative results," Howard told me. "Even if you ain't got no hope in it, just have hope in your family member coming home."

In 1994, her mother Cheryl Howard received a mandatory sentence of life without parole for two count of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and one count of drug conspiracy. Lavithia was 11 at the time. She is 34 now.

In a phone interview Monday night, Lavithia said she is "elated, overjoyed, tearfully happy, really at loss for words." However, she hadn't yet had a chance to share that with her mother.

Cheryl, an inmate at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Tx., had gotten "thrown in the SHU"—that is, restricted or disciplinary housing—for an unknown reason on Friday. Lavithia was worried. Her mom wouldn't act up with a pending clemency petition. Was it retaliation? Was it for her own protection? Cheryl had health issues, and solitary confinement is not a recommended place to be even in good health. Lavithia was unsure if her mom had even heard the news that her sentence had been commuted.

Such is the regular uncertainty for family members of inmates. When her mother was in an intensive care unit for a month following an aneurysm two years ago, Lavithia could barely get any information about her condition.

Cheryl Howard will spend her 50th birthday in prison, but "at least she's been given a date," Lavithia says. "It's more hope then we've had in a long time, and more than a lot of families have."

Watch this ReasonTV video featuring three former inmates who served lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes:

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  1. One of the few things I will salute the Obama administration on has been his willingness to increase the number of commutations (pardons would be preferable) for non-violent offenders.

    1. Indeed, Bill.

      But there it was. Cheryl Howard was among the 153 federal inmates who had their sentences commuted by President Obama on Monday. In addition, Obama pardoned 78 more sentences, setting a single-day record for clemency actions by a U.S. president .

      Monday’s announcement by the White House brings Obama’s total number of commutations to 1,176 since his administration launched a large-scale clemency campaign in 2014 to identify federal inmates serving time for nonviolent drug crimes who would be good candidates for reduced sentences.

      It is refreshing, is it not?

    2. The Constitution empowers the Pres “to grant reprieves and pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment” [eccentric capitalization omitted].

      Commutations would have to fit under either reprieves or pardons – I think they fit under pardons because a reprieve simply postpones a sentence, it doesn’t get rid of the sentence.

      But yes, I see what you mean.

      1. Generally speaking,

        commutation = released from prison
        pardon = commutation + purged record

        That is, at least, the distinction that the White House makes.

        1. this is accurate. Pardon is warranted for ALL such cases. Even though these wrongfully incarcerated folk are being released, if only their sentence is commuted, they remain convicted felons for life, with the attendant loss of certain rights and the social/economic stigmae attached. A full pardon essentially “reboots”, removes the record of the charge and conviction as if it never happened. THAT is what the alledged perpetrators of ALL victimless crimes should get. Full pardon.

          Oh, and END the charade of “protecting” the people from the druggies….. and the druggies from themselves.

    3. If he is so concerned about his legacy, there are worse ways (and not many better) to shore it up than spending the next five years issuing pardons and commutations.
      Shit, I am willing to compromise – each 18 commutations, he can have a round of golf.

      1. years = weeks, edit button etc.

        Though it would be funny if he did go full Emperor Norton, and continued issuing Executive Orders for the next five years…

    4. One of the few things I will salute the Obama administration on has been his willingness to increase the number of commutations (pardons would be preferable) for non-violent offenders.

      While I generally agree, his presidency was almost completely silent when it came to the underlying issues that make these commutations and pardons the laudable option. So, I think that instead of heaping piles of praise on him for this issue, I would ask, “If this is so important to you that you are breaking records with your pardons and commutations, why wasn’t this problem talked about much during your 8 years as president?”

      1. Also good questions:

        – Why wait until the end of the second term of your Presidency to do it?
        – Why just commutations and not full pardons?

        1. I assume that the answer to both questions is: optics.

          First, he doesn’t want to commute them too early in case they do something violent or re-offend during his presidency. Second, he doesn’t want to piss people off too much by the wholesale emptying of prisons. That might hurt his re-election chances.

          1. All the more reason to keep the praise circumspect.

      2. I agree with you on that. Still, last few presidents haven’t even done this much on the commutation front (let alone on the War on Drugs). So, I’ll give credit where it’s due.

        /now back to trashing the bastard.

      3. “”why wasn’t this problem talked about much during your 8 years as president?”””

        Because it would rehash the terrible anti-crime bills a democrat president signed?

  2. Life in prison for that?

    Makes me sick.

    1. Yeah, let’s just turn that doper loose to shoot up children on our playgrounds with the pot!

  3. President Obama “continues to review clemency applications on an individualized basis to determine whether a particular applicant has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance, and I expect that the President will issue more grants of both commutations and pardons before he leaves office.”

    The President’s no idiot. Remember, we’re all still politicians here. No one’s going to risk another Willie Horton incident.

    1. Why not? What does he care? If he releases some apparently harmless crack dealer, who then goes and rapes and kills a bunch a people, what’s going to happen? The Democrats will lose the White House, the Congress, most state houses and governorship?

      When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

  4. When people ask me if there’s anything I like about Obama, this is what I tend to come up with:

    1. A great deal of commutations at the end of his term.
    2. Keeping Clinton away from the Presidency in 2008.

    Anything else anyone can add?

    1. The left will finally shut up about how great Kennedy was?

    2. I would just take #1 off that list. Just because of the hypocrisy of it. Obama does not give a fuck about any of those people. And he could have done this 8 years ago. All he cares about is some narcissist legacy bullshit. If he thought that sending these folks to Gitmo or even executing them would make him look better, he’d do it without a 2nd thought.

      Now he’s been going off about how he’s for ending the war on cannabis. Fuck that asshole, he had 8 years and did nothing.

      1. If we start waiting around for politicians to not only do the right thing but do it for the right reasons…well, it makes Waiting For Godot look hasty.

      2. I don’t care why he does it, just that he did. Whether he ‘cares about any of those people’ is irrelevant to the fact that they’re out of prison. Sure, he could have done it eight years ago, as could any President elected after the War on Drugs started, but they don’t.

      3. I don’t think 8 years ago is entirely fair. I do expect that the cases get reviewed before commutation; some people are in jail for drug offenses who did worse things that they prosecution didn’t want to go through the hassle of proving in court. Unless and until the laws are repealed, some discretion is probably best exercised. But that still leaves a gaping hole in the latter half of his first term.

      4. If he thought that sending these folks to Gitmo or even executing them would make him look better, he’d do it without a 2nd thought.

        This.

    3. I would add in Cuba policy myself.

      1. Cuba and Iran (I think).

        1. Iran, no. Iran is pretty much the best example outside of the ‘red line’ speech as to Obama’s complete incompetence when it comes to diplomacy. The Iranians ran circles around him in discussions and he just took it because ‘legacy’.

          1. Yeah, it would have been better to put half-a-million troops in Teheran like you libertarians wanted. Diplomacy means USA gets what it wants or in come the B-52s

            1. Again, illiterate moron, read what I wrote, not your demented brain fever thinks I wrote. Did I say anything about military action? No. Did I argue that Iran was poorly handled diplomatically? Yes. It’s telling that I have to explain basic sentences to you.

              Diplomacy is about successful negotiation and manipulation of your opponent to produce outcomes that may be beneficial for both sides, but ultimately benefit your side more. Obama has absolutely failed on that point, and a lot of it has to do with his fundamental ignorance of statecraft in general. Talleyrand he is not.

              1. Yeah, I’m sorry. Diplomacy means you make demands that your adversary isn’t going to agree to and then in come to B-52s. Honestly, John, I don’t give a shit about Iran’s nuclear arsenal and, maybe when I do think about it once per year, see it as a legitimate expression of Iran’s fear of being invaded by militarists in the US government. You don’t think those fears are legitimate? LOL, I do.

                1. Unfortunately for you, diplomacy (and the actual diplomatic solutions surrounding the Iranian nuclear program) is far more complicated than that, but attempting to explain actual nuance to you is like lecturing a hedgehog on particle physics.

                  maybe when I do think about it once per year

                  This would require you to be capable of actual thought, which I consider questionable. And what a surprise, Amsoc throws regular temper tantrums over how monstrous the American nuclear arsenal is, but he just doesn’t care if other countries develop their own weapons. Yes, we get it, your childish worldview is “AMERICA BAD.” But some of us require a more adult perspective.

        2. I second the Iran deal. This and the commutations are the only positives I can find about his whole 8 years. Everything else has been pretty dismal and disastrous. Still better than George W Bush though.

          1. What was positive about paying ransom by sending literal plane-loads of cash to a terror-sponsoring state teetering on bankruptcy, again?

            1. Positive?

              – American deaths = 0
              – Dollars wasted = 0 (the cash you reference was payback for assets seized)

              And Shia terrorism has affected the homeland how?

              1. – Dollars wasted = 0 (the cash you reference was payback for assets seized

                Whatever accounting tricks were used to justify it, it still came out of the U.S. Treasury (albeit not directly, because that would be illegal).

                1. Same could be said for the compensation paid back to someone who’s property was seized via asset forfeiture. The value is booked to some account. And some Treasurer had to cut a check from the account.

                  1. The difference being that the U.S. Government has an obligation to redress wrongs it caused. It does not have an obligation to give one red cent to the terrorist-sponsoring “Revolutionary” Iranian government.

                    1. It does if that was part of the deal. Which apparently it was.

                    2. It was an unofficial quid pro quo since it remains illegal to give money to the Iranian government, even for the President (eat your heart out, Richard Nixon).

                    3. Meh. Noone died, and the $ ‘could’ be used for good. I’ll give Reagan the win with Iran-Contra.

                    4. Noone died

                      Poor bastard, what did he do to deserve that?

    4. (Been sitting here for 20 minutes trying to come up with something. Still drawing a blank.)

    5. Among other things, He didn’t invade and occupy two sovereign countries and didn’t allow ~3,000 Americans in a terrorist act because of his incompetence and general disinterest in the job.

      1. Dude. I’m generally way more sympathetic to Obama and the left than other libertarians, but you go too far trying to pin 9/11 on W. That would have happened regardless of who was in office.

      2. I know, why didn’t Booosh implement the police state much earlier or install that machine from Minority Report so he could get psychic vibes from the hijackers before they did what they did?

      3. Amsoc, I get that you have clear issues in determining reality from the fiction in your head, but if you think that Bush could have magically stopped 9/11 by being more competent you are a fundamentally stupid and delusional person.

        And the first part of your sentence highlights that. I’m not interested in comparisons to other incompetent Presidents, what I’m actually looking for is things this incompetent President did.

  5. Even if one of these people ends up robbing a store or something, I’m glad Obama is granting so many pardons – it’s something he can do without waiting for Congress (unlike, say, immigration reform), and it makes sentences less awful.

    And a sentence is either too long or it’s not, if it’s too long then it should be shortened even if the person might end up robbing a store.

    1. These people have been vetted 2 or 3 times over before they are even considered by the Justice department for commutation. If they resort to violence upon release, it’s because they changed while in federal prison.

      My “client” in this commutation program was a low-level drug dealer with essentially no history of violence. He is obese and disabled and will die in prison. However he didnt make the cut because he had been slapped with a “gang affiliated” label during a prior arrest and because one of his co-conspirators testified that he had a ridiculous amount of crack (which he later recanted on).

      If he can’t make the cut to ever have his app submitted to the 2nd round of vetting, I can’t imagine too many violent criminals making it through.

  6. WURST PRESIDENT EVER. TRUMP GOOD BECAUSE HE KNOWS WHITE PEOPLE

    1. TRUMP GOOD BECAUSE HE KNOWS WHITE PEOPLE

      That must be why he got less of the white vote than Obama did.

      1. He lost the popular vote too, but in banana republic sometimes the screwiest ideas get implemented.

        1. Who is the United Fruit of our banana republic? Or do you not know what “banana republic” means, much like how you don’t know what anything means in general?

          1. I’ll admit to using the term somewhat freely– although, in my defense, I’m not the first to apply it to the U.S.A. What I mean is a government controlled by a wealthy and indifferent elite with large socio-economic gap between that ruling elite and the pretty-close-to-impoverished working class.

            1. We have an elected government. How did this wealthy and indifferent “elite” get into power, if not by the consent of the more numerous “working class”?

              1. “We have an elected government.”

                We do? I like to check my assumptions from time to time. You?

                1. So voter fraud is not just a right-wing myth? Or are you saying that the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate are not, in fact, elected?

        2. Also, I’d love to see what happens to turnout for California Republicans once you make their votes matter again. You think you can maintain that advantage that the “top-two primary” bullshit bought the Democrats this election in a scenario where votes for the minority party actually matter?

        3. Surely this much concentrated derp must have terrible health consequences…

  7. “1994, her mother Cheryl Howard received a mandatory sentence of life without parole for two count of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and one count of drug conspiracy. Lavithia was 11 at the time. She is 34 now.”

    Jesus Fucking Christ! HRC was the best Democratic candidate evah! The Clintons did so much for the disadvantaged.

    Eh, John Titor, she’ll probably just go back to her broken social system that fosters depency. Another form of Obama’s prison to be sure.

    1. Tell us again how you want Muslims in forced labour camps instead of drug offenders in prison Amsoc.

      1. Since when does he have a problem with drug offenders being in prison? I thought that’s what made Cuba so great.

        1. I thought that’s what made Cuba so great.

          And here I thought it was the murder and gang-rape of Angolans, silly me.

          1. No, really. Amsoc once said that Cubans in Cuba were better than Cubans in the U.S. because the latter are all drug dealers.

      2. Did you read the part where I said I believed 93% of what I typed. If you think I’m actually for deporting muslims–as opposed to impotently talking about how religions are all peaceful– then I don’t know what to say. Do you want me to use /sarc tags? Maybe you need them.

        1. Hey look, the pathological liar is saying that he’s just joking, I wonder why we shouldn’t believe him.

  8. Hey, let’s take the conversation down here where it will be better. My new best friend (sorry Sevo) John Titor thinks there’s no difference between a stockpile of thousands of nuclear weapons owned by a country that has demonstrated that it will use them and a nuclear weapons program still not quite on track with no missile delivery program to speak of. Here it is… Wow!

    “And what a surprise, Amsoc throws regular temper tantrums over how monstrous the American nuclear arsenal is, but he just doesn’t care if other countries develop their own weapons.”

    Ask him– for me– what happens if Iran tells whatever hotelier Trump appoints as ambassador to Iran to go fuck themselves– we’ll take the deal we signed with Obama thank you very much.

    1. Wasn’t the whole point of the “deal” that they couldn’t develop nuclear weapons? If they develop said weapons then they’re not “taking the deal”, now are they?

    2. owned by a country that has demonstrated that it will use them

      Because Iran would never use nuclear weapons on military targets surrounded by civilians in a defensive war like the United States did. Brilliant analysis.

      and a nuclear weapons program still not quite on track with no missile delivery program to speak of.

      And the point of the deal was? Oh right, to stop the nuclear weapons program (real talk, it wasn’t, Obama just wanted to, in classic narcissist fashion, be praised for ‘a historic agreement with Iran’ Whether that deal was actually good was a secondary thought). Proving your ignorance once again, the Iranians have a space program you moron. The Safir could easily be redesigned for nuclear deployment. That being said, they don’t even need ICBMs, because their targets are a lot closer to home.

      Least the old school anti-nuclear protesters were consistent. Disarmament in general was a goal. You cry crocodile tears about American nuclear policy and then go “LOL, an autocracy with long-standing regional rivalries building nukes is fine, I don’t care LOL.”

  9. The kinyun is playing the role of the wicked servant in one of Jesus’ parables…. giving away the farm to curry favour which he will then call upon once he’s out of office. He’s grandstnding, his motives are rotten to the core.

    That being so, he is still doing the right thing even if for the wrong reasons. NOWHERE does our Constitution provide any authority to FedGov to regulate in any way anything we put into (or don’t put into) our bodies. That is a state issue, if at all. Such draconian sentences for victimless crimes are wrong…. “cruel and unusual” I believe applies. ALL such “offenders’ should receive a full pardon, not just their sentences commuted. CLose down the DEA, they are most likely responsible for as much chemical gatting INTO the US than they are keeping out. End the useless, wasteful, debilitating “war on drugs”. It does NO good.

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