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Obama and the elephant in the room

GEORGE E. CURRY | 4/11/2016, 10:37 a.m.
It’s been whispered for years so let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Many African Americans have privately complained ...
George Curry

A prisoner’s commutation of sentence involves the reduction of time being served. Unlike a pardon, it does not remove the conviction from that person’s record. Clemency reduces the penalty but also does not remove the conviction.

Obama met last week with commutation recipients from both his administration and those granted by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to discuss how the process can be strengthened.

Following lunch, Obama said, “But we’re not done, and we’re going to keep on working on this until I leave. It’s something that I’m going to keep on working on even after I leave the presidency, because – some of you know we had an Easter Prayer Breakfast with ministers, pastors from all around the country of all denominations in which we read Scripture and were reminded of Jesus’ teachings.

“And at the heart of my faith, and what I believe is at the heart of the American ideal is, is that we’re all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We have to own those mistakes. We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. But we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility and own and learn from those mistakes are able to continue to be part of the American family. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.”

The president’s embrace of Kemba Smith, who was given a 24.5 year mandatory sentence at the age of 24 and pardoned in 2000 by Bill Clinton, was posted as photograph of the day on the White House website.

The White House statement, issued by White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, said,

“Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that clemency is nearly always a tool of last resort that can help specific individuals, but does nothing to make our criminal justice system on the whole more fair and just. Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies. So while we continue to work to resolve as many clemency applications as possible – and make no mistake, we are working hard at this – only broader criminal justice reform can truly bring justice to the many thousands of people behind bars serving unduly harsh and outdated sentences.”

Obama has additional work to do on both criminal justice and immigration reform.

George E. Curry is president and CEO of George Curry Media LLC. He can be reached through http://www.georgecurry.com. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Facebook Fan Page.