President Barack Obama on Thursday issued 13 pardons and commuted the sentences of eight individuals.
The commuted sentences involved men and women serving long terms on drug charges, including several sentenced to life without parole.
"Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison," Obama noted. "In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime."
Stephanie Yvette George of Pensacola, Fla., for instance, was a single mother of three when she became involved in the early 1990s with helping boyfriends sell crack cocaine. In 1997, because of some prior convictions, she was sentenced to life on cocaine charges. While in prison, the American Civil Liberties Union noted in a report, she has earned more than 30 skills certificates, received a certificate in business administration and management, and has nearly completed an associate’s degree in business.
Another prisoner whose sentence Obama commuted, Clarence Aaron of Mobile, Ala., was sentenced to life without parole in 1993 following his conviction on cocaine charges. Aaron has been a "model prisoner (who) has taken courses in religious studies, economics, Spanish, photography and behavioral development," according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
Obama said that he hopes Congress next year will follow up with further sentencing reform measures.
"This is one important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system," said Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Some of the individuals pardoned by Obama have long since served their sentences. Ronald Eugene Greenwood of Crane, Mo., for instance, was convicted of conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act. he was sentenced to three years probation and six months home confinement.
The oldest case for which Obama offered a pardon involved Willie Shaw, Jr. of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who was sentenced to 15 years for armed bank robbery in 1974.