A few months ago, I received this letter from a Floridian named Sherman Chester. When Sherman was a young man, he wrote that he made some bad choices, got in over his head, and ended up with a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent drug charge. At Sherman’s sentencing, even the judge couldn’t believe he was bound by law to hand down a punishment that didn’t fit the crime.
We know that Sherman’s story is all too common in this country — a country that imprisons its citizens at a rate far higher than any other. Too many men and women end up in a criminal justice system that serves up excessive punishments, especially for nonviolent drug offenses.
But this is a country that believes in second chances. So we’ve got to make sure that our criminal justice system works for everyone. We’ve got to make sure that it keeps our streets safe while also making sure that an entire class of people like Sherman isn’t relegated to a life on the margins.
Last year, after he served more than 20 long years in prison, I commuted Sherman’s sentence and those of many others who were serving unjust and outdated prison sentences.
And today, I’m commuting the sentences of an additional 214 men and women who are just as deserving of a second chance. Altogether, I’ve commuted more sentences than the past nine presidents combined. And I am not done yet.
These acts of clemency are important steps for families like Sherman’s and steer our country in a better direction, but they alone won’t fix our criminal justice system. We need Congress to pass meaningful federal sentencing reform that will allow us to more effectively use taxpayer dollars to protect the public.
I hope you’ll take a minute to read and share Sherman’s letter. The more we understand the human stories behind this problem, the sooner we can start making real changes that keep our streets safe, break the cycle of incarceration in this country, and save taxpayers like you money.
President Barack Obama
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