Clemency Under Obama Can Be a Cruel Lottery

'It was devastating'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 24, 2015 1:19 PM CST
Updated Dec 24, 2015 2:02 PM CST
Clemency Under Obama Can Be a Cruel Lottery
President Obama has granted clemency to dozens of nonviolent drug offenders, but thousands of others remain behind bars.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

President Obama's clemency program is a gift to dozens of nonviolent drug offenders, but it's a lump of coal for thousands more. The Washington Post takes a deep look into how clemency is affecting prisoners who remain behind bars, after 95 of their fellows were given a second chance by Obama last Friday. "It was a great day for those who won the lottery and one more disappointment for everyone in the pipeline who should be on the list,” says the founder of a clemency advocacy group. One of those freed by a president trying to right some of the perceived wrongs of the war on drugs was a 48-year-old woman serving a life sentence for cocaine—her first and only offense. She was "overjoyed" when she got the news. But she was one of the lucky ones.

Weldon Angelos is serving a 55-year sentence for dealing around $1,000 of pot, the Post reports, a sentence that even the judge who sentenced him calls "unjust, cruel, and even irrational." Despite fitting Obama's criteria for clemency, Friday was Angelos' fourth time being passed over. "I felt sick," Angelos says. "It was devastating." The administration isn't saying why some prisoners who meet its criteria—the existence of which has "raised the hopes of thousands"—are chosen and others aren't. And advocates say Obama could be doing much more. Another president with clemency criteria, Gerald Ford, granted it to 14,000 people in one year. Meanwhile, Angelos—who was hoping to see his oldest son graduate high school—has to cross his fingers his name is on the list next time. "I’m trying to keep my sons positive and hopeful," he says. Read the full story here. (More clemency stories.)

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