This is our response to The Man who Ran Obama's Clemency Machine.
It was published on The Marshall Project.
An interview with Neil Eggleston by Maurice Chammah
Life for Pot’s Response too Neil Eggleston – Beth Curtis
Responding to The Marshall Project:
The Man Who Ran Obama’s Clemency Machine by: Maurice Chammah
Neil Eggleston’s comments about Clemency Project 2014 shed some light on the reason for the ultimate failure and collapse of this Obama initiative for criminal justice reform.
For the first five years of Obama’s presidency the federal prison population grew by 19,000 incarcerated people. On Jan. 2013, the population was 219,298, the highest incarceration rate in history.
Criminal justice organizations, prisoner advocacy groups, criminal defense attorneys, law school clinics, prisoner’s families and various other lobbying groups started the drum beat for sentencing reform and an initiative of Presidential Clemency. Finally in 2013 it was announced that there would be a clemency initiative that could mean 10,000 or more acts of mercy for incarcerated people who would not be a threat if they were released.
Those of us with incarcerated loved ones who had sentences that would assure that they would die behind bars now had a reason for hope. We felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the President and all who were involved in the decision and the process that would lead to our loved ones freedom. We could hope to have our family member in our daily lives again. The hope was an ache, but we knew this President had compassion. It was not to be.
The lack of commitment became apparent almost immediately. I have the web site Life for Pot and the nonviolent marijuana offenders that I advocate for waited patiently for their evaluation by cp-14. Surprisingly some were rejected, and others accepted to the project and were told they would be assigned an attorney. Those fortunate inmates who were assigned an attorney would sometimes just receive a notification that they were represented and hear nothing more. We urged them to submit their own and wait.
This is not just a passing interest for me. I have a 69 year old brother, John Knock, who has two life sentences for a nonviolent marijuana conspiracy. John was a first time offender and at sentencing the judge stated that there were no victims. He has been incarcerated for 20 years and never had an infraction. His prison resume is impeccable. He is a first time offender. On January 18, his clemency petition was denied by President Obama.
These are the numbers that tell you about the mercy and compassion of the Clemency Initiative. The promise was 10,000 or more.
1,715 Commutations granted – we could only find 39 for nonviolent marijuana only offenders. The rest were denied or left pending. The USSC said there were 60+ but they included those with other drugs in their charges as long as the major substance was marijuana. Our criteria are marijuana only.
Over 18,000 petitions for commutation were denied
Over 4,000 petitions for commutation we closed without action
Over 8,000 petitions for commutation were left pending in the Pardon Attorney’s office for the next administration.
I must reject Mr. Eggleston’s assertion that he had better information and insight than the attorneys, advocates, or families about who was a good candidate for release. He asserts that he and President Obama looked over all the applicants and rejected all but 1,715.
Apparently Mr. Eggleston and President Obama based their denials on secret information. That implies that all the nonviolent marijuana offenders that I know who were denied should remain in prison till they die because Mr. Eggleston and President Obama have special information unknown to anyone else? What are the secrets that gave them confidence to make this Sophie’s Choice? They missed the point of Clemency. It is not a legal process but a Constitutional Power given to the President to be compassionate and merciful. In this endeavor they failed miserably.
These assertions made by Mr. Eggleston have tainted the character and behavior of all they left behind. I can only believe this was done in order to burnish the administration’s legacy of compassion at the expense of those they left behind without hope.
There is one secret that most of us know, that the White House and the Pardon Attorney did not address. That secret is that most nonviolent offenders who receive sentences of life without parole were charged with conspiracy and went to trial. A conspiracy charge does not require definitive evidence, but only the testimony of those testifying for a plea or for part of the forfeiture. If you exercise your sixth amendment right to trial you receive the trial penalty. This charge allows the Prosecutor to tell the story.
In the spring of 2016 at a White House Briefing, it was obvious to many of us that the promise of clemency was waning and The Administration was pivoting to reentry as the major emphasis for time and money.
The White House would not pay attention to any effort to expedite the clemency project by granting clemency to categories of inmates. Many individuals and groups implored them to take this approach so that they would not fail the thousands who placed their trust in their concept of mercy. The White House and Justice Department did not seem to even understand the concept as it had been used in the past. Heels were dug in, and fates were sealed.