ASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday shortened the prison sentences of nearly two dozen drug convicts, including eight serving life in prison, in an act the White House said continues Obama's push to make the justice system fairer by reducing harsh sentences that were handed down under outdated guidelines.
The effort could lead Obama to grant clemency more often as his second and final term in office winds down.
In December, Obama issued his first round of commutations under new guidelines that were put in place to cut costs by reducing the growing prison population and grant leniency to nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to yearslong terms of confinement away from society. A commutation leaves the conviction in place and ends the punishment.
Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, said many of the 22 people whose federal sentences will be cut short by Obama's action would already have served their time and paid the debt they owed society had they been sentenced under current laws and policies.
"Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime," Eggleston said in a post on the White House blog. The 22 individuals were sentenced between 1992 and 2006.
Eggleston said Tuesday's commutations underscore Obama's "commitment to using all the tools at his disposal to bring greater fairness and equity to our justice system."
Obama has now approved a total of 43 commutations during more than six years in office. Eggleston noted that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had commuted 11 sentences during his two terms.
In a letter, Obama urged each individual to take advantage of the second chance he is giving them. The White House said it was the first time Obama had sent such letters.
"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity," he wrote. "It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances.
"But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices," Obama said.
The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for less stringent drug sentences, praised the commutations. "The president's actions today are welcome," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. Collins called on Congress to "act quickly on substantive sentencing reform," adding, "It's time to rectify the U.S.'s embarrassing record on mass incarceration."
The 22 individuals whose sentences will expire on July 28 are:
—Terry Andre Barnes, East Moline, Illinois. Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; violation of supervised release. Sentenced to 246 months imprisonment.
—Theresa Brown, Pompano Beach, Florida. Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. Sentenced to life in prison.
—Donel Marcus Clark, Dallas. Conspiracy; use of a communication facility; distribution and/or possession of cocaine or manufacturing in or near a school facility, aiding and abetting. Sentenced to 420 months in prison, later amended to 360 months.
—Ricky Bernard Coggins, Tallahassee, Florida. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—Samuel Pasqual Edmondson, of Junction City, Kansas. Conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Sentenced to life in prison.
—Amado Garcia, Fresno, California. Conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of heroin. Sentenced to 240 months in prison.
—Dwight Anthony Goddard, Decatur, Georgia. Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Sentenced to 235 months in prison.
—Lionel Ray Hairston, of Ridgeway, Virginia. Distribution of cocaine base. Sentenced to 262 months in prison.
—Francis Darrell Hayden, Loretto, Kentucky: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants or 1,000 or more kilograms of marijuana; manufacture of 1,000 or more marijuana plants. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—Harold Kenneth Herring, Havana, Florida: Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—Tommie Lee Hollingshed, Memphis, Tennessee. Distribution of a controlled substance. Sentenced to 324 months imprisonment.
—Derrick DeWayne Johnson, Birmingham, Alabama. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine; possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Sentenced to 360 months imprisonment.
—Robert Martinez-Gil, San Antonio, Texas. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—David Navejar, Brooksville, Florida. Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Sentenced to 240 months imprisonment.
—Rudolph Norris, Washington, D.C. Unlawful distribution of cocaine base; unlawful possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base. Sentenced to 360 months imprisonment.
—Tracy Lynn Petty, Shelby, North Carolina. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. Sentenced to 240 months imprisonment, later amended to 204 months.
—Luis Razo, Davenport, Iowa. Conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Sentenced to 240 months imprisonment.
—Antwon Rogers, Cleveland. Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 139.8 grams of cocaine base. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—Herman Rosenboro, Kingsport, Tennessee. Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine and over 50 grams of cocaine base; distribution of a quantity of cocaine base; distribution of a quantity of cocaine. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
—Lawrence Elmo Scott, Lynchburg, Virginia. Distribution of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. Sentenced to 283 months imprisonment.
—Levar V. Wade, Chicago, Illinois. Possession of 50 or more grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Sentenced to 240 months imprisonment.
—Eugene Winters, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base. Sentenced to 240 months in prison.
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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)