Obama Commutes 46, But Is That Enough? | Center on Addiction

Obama Commutes 46, But Is That Enough?

Obama Commutes 46, But Is That Enough?


This week President Obama commuted the federal sentences of 46 prisoners in an effort to correct what he sees as an extreme of the past that disproportionately affected African-American and Hispanic men. 

This push is part of a bipartisan effort to overhaul current sentencing rules and reform the criminal justice system to lower penalties for drug offenders and reduce the occurrence of nonviolent drug offenders receiving overly harsh minimum sentences. The White House also hopes this will help to resolve deep-rooted issues that have filled our prisons with people who suffer from addiction and led to the largest prison population in the world.

Some believe that this effort risks public safety, while others view the reform as a matter of ensuring civil liberties following previous sentencing guidelines that disproportionally affected some minorities and the poor. President Obama’s message, however, is clear. In a letter to those 46 individuals pardoned, President Obama declared:

 “The power to grant pardons and clemency is one of the most profound authorities granted to the President…It embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance…you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around.”

We commend President Obama’s action as a step in changing our nation’s response to addiction, but reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenders alone is not enough.

CASAColumbia has documented the profound link between substance use and crime, which shows that well over half of the inmates incarcerated in the U.S. meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Only about 11 percent of those individuals in the justice system actually receive addiction treatment. The U.S. justice system must acknowledge addiction and risky substance use as health problems, and provide effective treatment and intervention to help inmates and those commuted make meaningful change.

Research supports the need for:

  • Expansion of treatment-based alternatives to incarceration
  • Trained health care professionals to screen, assess and treat substance using offenders
  • Appropriate post-release treatment, disease management and supportive services for those facing release, including medication-assisted treatments for those with prior histories of opioid addiction

Incarceration alone cannot prevent a disease and without implementation of these interventions and treatments, individuals suffering from addiction face high rates of re-incarceration.

You can find more on CASAColumbia’s stance in our Substance Use, Addiction and The Justice System Position Statement.


  Nicole Piazza

  Nicole Piazza is a Research Assistant at CASAColumbia



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