(CNSNews.com) - As promised on Monday, the Justice Department today released its new criteria for inmates who want their prison sentences reduced.
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced six "stringent standards" the department will consider when reviewing and expediting clemency applications from federal inmates. He also replaced the Bush administration appointee who heads DOJ's Pardons office.
Under the new initiative, DOJ will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following requirements:
-- They are currently serving time in a federal prison and likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
-- They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
-- They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
-- They do not have a significant criminal history;
-- They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
-- They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” said Deputy Attorney General James Coleon Wednesday, as he released the new clemency criteria that are expected to result in thousands of inmates leaving prison early.
“Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”
The Justice Department makes clemency recommendations to the president, and President Obama has said he wants to consider many more of them.
To handle the flood of anticipated clemency applications, Cole said on Wednesday he has issued a "department-wide call for attorneys willing to help review the new petitions." Attorneys who answer the call will be temporarily assigned to the Pardon Attorney’s Office, which has a new leader.
Cole on Wednesday announced that Bush administration appointee Ronald Rodgers has been replaced by Deborah Leff, the acting senior counselor for DOJ's "Access to Justice" program, which helps the Justice system "deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status."
The shakeup pleased sentencing reform advocates: “The doors of the Office of the Pardon Attorney have been closed to petitioners for too long," said Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, one of the groups that comprises the newly formed Clemency Project 2014. "This announcement signals a truly welcome change; the culture of 'no' that has dominated that office is being transformed,” she added.
Cole said the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will notify inmates in coming days about the clemency initiative and the availability of pro bono lawyers from Clemency Project 2014, which includes federal public defenders and outside groups, such as the ACLU and others.
The new clemency initiative is an outgrowth of Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which comes amid a prison overcrowding crisis.