Obama Cuts Short Sentences for 111 Federal Inmates Convicted of Nonviolent Drug Offenses

President Barack Obama cut short on Tuesday the sentences of 111 federal inmates in another round of commutations for those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

At least six of those inmates came from the D.C. and Baltimore area, including Derrick Lewis Bynum of Hyattsville, Maryland, who had been sentenced to 300 months in prison for drug and firearms charges. His sentence was whittled to 240 months.

Obama has long called for phasing out strict sentences for drug convictions, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries.

White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said the commutations underscored the president's commitment to using his clemency authority to give deserving individuals a second chance. He said that Obama has granted a total of 673 commutations, more than the previous 10 presidents combined. More than a third of the recipients were serving life sentences.

"We must remember that these are individuals -- sons, daughters, parents, and in many cases, grandparents -- who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance," Eggleston said. "They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes."

Eggleston noted that Obama also granted commutation to 214 federal inmates earlier in the month. With Tuesday's additions, Obama has granted the greatest number of commutations for a single month of any president.

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Eggleston says he expects Obama to continue using his clemency authority through the end of his administration. He said the relief points to the need for Congress to take up criminal justice reform. Such legislation has stalled, undercut by a rash of summer shootings involving police and the pressure of election-year politics. 

Two goals of the legislation are to reduce overcrowding in the nation's prisons and save taxpayer dollars. In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.

But the legislation's supporters have encountered opposition from some Republicans who argue that changes could lead to an increase in crime and pose a greater danger to law enforcement.

Eggleston said Obama considered the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of their second chance.

One of those granted relief was Tim Tyler, who at 25 was sentenced to life in federal prison for possession with intent to deliver LSD as he followed the Grateful Dead. He is now set to be released on August 30, 2018, conditioned upon enrollment in residential drug treatment. Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group, said it had been working on the Tyler family's behalf.

"We applaud the president for using the clemency power to free people who fully expected to die in prison and for shining a light on the excesses of federal drug sentencing," said Julie Stewart, the group's president.

The release dates for the inmates vary. Most are set to be released December 28.

Legal groups supporting the president's actions have formed an organization called Clemency Project 2014 that has submitted some 1,600 clemency petitions to the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney. The group said a prisoner must have served at least 10 years of his or her sentence to be considered for a commutation grant and must be a non-violent offender without significant ties to gangs or cartels. The inmate also must have demonstrated good conduct in prison while serving a sentence that likely would have been substantially lower if handed out today.

"We are looking forward to many more grants during the remaining months of President Obama's term in office," said the group's project manager, Cynthia Roseberry.

Inmates from D.C. and Baltimore whose sentences were commuted:

Malik Abuhamid Ibm Wakil Abdunafi – Baltimore, MD

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine, at least 50 grams of cocaine base (crack), heroin, and marijuana; distribution of cocaine and cocaine base (crack); distribution of heroin; possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, at least five grams of cocaine base (crack), heroin, and marijuana; Middle District of Pennsylvania

Sentence: 240 months' imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release; $100,000 forfeiture (August 31, 2007)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on December 28, 2016, and obligation and payment of forfeiture remitted.

Derrick Lewis Bynum – Hyattsville, MD

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; use of a communications device to facilitate narcotics trafficking (three counts); possession with intent to distribute controlled substances (two counts); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; District of Maryland

Sentence: 300 months' imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release (December 19, 2006)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to a term of 240 months' imprisonment.

Elliott Gray – Baltimore, MD

Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, and aiding and abetting; District of Maryland

Sentence: 188 months' imprisonment; four years' supervised release (August 24, 2007)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on August 30, 2018, conditioned upon enrollment in residential drug treatment.

Marvin K. Holloway – District Heights, MD

Offense: Unlawful possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base; District of Columbia

Sentence: 262 months' imprisonment; five years' supervised release (November 21, 2000)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on December 28, 2016. 

Rodney R. McCain – Suitland, MD

Offense: Distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; felon in possession of a firearm; District of Maryland

Sentence: 200 months' imprisonment; five years' supervised release (September 14, 2006)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on December 28, 2016.

Jonathan Carnell Williams – Washington, DC

Offense: Possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base (crack); District of Maryland

Sentence: 262 months' imprisonment; eight years' supervised release (May 6, 2003)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on December 28, 2016.

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