Drug Cases at Heart of Obama Clemency Grants

     (CN) - President Barack Obama commuted eight prison terms and granted 13 pardons on Thursday, in a move he attributed to the passage of a law that reduces disparities in drug laws.
     Despite this week's spate of Fair Sentencing Act-inspired clemencies, Obama still lags far behind his predecessors in granting relief to prisoners.
     The current president now has pardoned 52 people and commuted nine sentences during his tenure, far fewer than George W. Bush's 189 pardons, and also dwarfed by the combined 456 pardons and commutations of the Clinton administration.
     More than half of the recipients of Obama's most recent clemencies have been in prison on drug convictions.
     Six of the commutations allowed for the release of nonviolent drug offenders slapped with life sentences.
     Five in this group will now be released on April 17, including Clarence Aaron of Mobile, Ala.; Stephanie George of Pensacola, Fla.; Ricky Patterson of Fort Pierce, Fla.; Billy Ray Wheelock of Belton, Tex.; and Reynolds Wintersmith, Jr. of Rockford, Ill.
     Jason Hernandez of McKinney, Tex., however, had his sentence commuted to 20 years from the date of his 1998 conviction.
     The American Civil Liberties Union profiled four of these people in their report: "A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What?"
     The group applauded Obama's announcement.
     "President Obama today gave several Americans who were unnecessarily sentenced to die behind bars the chance to reunite with their families," deputy legal director Vanita Gupta said in a statement. "This is one important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system. We hope the President will continue to exercise his clemency powers and lend his support to systemic reform that will make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more humane."