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Dec 24 2013

The Quality of Mercy

President Barack Obama has been quite miserly with his power to pardon and commute sentences. Since taking office, the president has only pardoned 39 people and commuted only one sentence, the fewest of any president in history. His recent “binge” commuting the sentences of eight federal prisoners who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses was was the first time retroactive relief was provided to a group of inmates who would most likely have received significantly shorter terms if they had been sentenced under current drug laws, sentencing rules and charging policies. All eight had already served 15 years and six had been sentenced to life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much for the thousands of other prisoners sentenced under the draconian laws that preceded  Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Prison overcrowding in the country costs tax payers billions each year and most of the inmates are minorities and non-violent drug offenders.

The other prison population that could use a little mercy is the aged who, for the most part, no longer a danger to society. According a report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, in just the past three years, the number of inmates over the age of 65 has grown by almost a third, while the population under 30 fell by 12 percent and are two to three times more expensive to keep in prison than their younger counterparts. Perhaps, as the report suggests, it is time for a compassionate release program for sick and infirm inmates.

“If the Risk Is Low, Let Them Go”: Elderly Prison Population Skyrockets Despite Low Risk to Society

Even amidst a modest reduction in the U.S. prison population, the number of aging men and women expected to die behind bars has skyrocketed in a system ill prepared to handle them and still oriented toward mass incarceration. We speak about the problems facing aging prisoners with Mujahid Farid, who was released from a New York state prison in 2011 after serving 33 years. He is now lead organizer with RAPP, which stands for “Release Aging People in Prison.” Their slogan is “If the risk is low, let them go.” His campaign work is part of Soros Justice Fellowship and is housed at the Correctional Association of New York. We are also joined by Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. “The parole board routinely denies people based on the nature of the offense, the one thing that no one can change, just like we can’t change our height or our eye color,” Elijah notes. “We need to look at that and say, if someone presents a low risk to recidivate, then we should be releasing them from prison. We’re wasting precious taxpayer dollars incarcerating people, and it’s much more expensive to incarcerate people who are older.”



Trancript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

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