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Obama commutes prisons sentences for eight on crack charges

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington December 4, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington December 4, 2013.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people on Thursday after deciding their crack cocaine offenses did not justify the length of their time behind bars.

The eight have each served more than 15 years in prison. A White House official said their sentences had been unduly harsh and helped contribute to "an expensive and ineffective overcrowding of our prisons."

Presidents typically use the end-of-year period to consider ways whether to grant requests for commutations or clemency from convicted law breakers.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was signed into law by Obama in an effort to reduce disparities in how much prison time was required for those convicted of crack compared to cocaine convictions.

The White House said each of the eight people whose sentences were commuted was sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act and that they would have received lesser sentences if convicted of the same crime today.

Obama said in a statement that the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act has begun to right to a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late.

"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year," he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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