Justice News

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates Delivers Remarks on White House Clemency Press Call
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Good afternoon. I’m pleased to join Neil Eggleston and clemency recipients Norman Brown and Shauna Barry Scott for today’s historic announcement.

As of this morning, President Obama has granted clemency to over 1,000 men and women who were incarcerated under outdated sentencing laws.

The number 1,000 is significant, but it’s important to remember that this is more than a statistic. There are 1,000 lives behind that number, 1,000 people who had been sentenced under unnecessarily harsh and outdated sentencing laws that sent them to prison for 20, 30, 40 years, even life, for nonviolent drug offenses. It's part of my job to review the petitions for each of these individuals, and I've been struck by the common threads woven through many of them – lack of access to education or real economic opportunity, absence of parents, drug addiction, hopelessness. But in these petitions I've also seen something else – remarkable introspection, a real sense of responsibility for their conduct, and a dogged determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to ensure that they, and especially their children, chart another path.

The President has given these 1,000 individuals that opportunity. And while we are a nation of laws, and those who violate those laws must be held accountable, we are also a nation of second chances. The mission of the Justice Department not only supports but demands that we do everything in our power to ensure that our criminal justice system operates fairly. In this case, that means reducing disproportionate sentences imposed under out-of-date laws. And we are privileged to serve a President who has not only taken on this responsibility himself, but who has given us the chance to fulfill our core charge to seek justice.

At DOJ, we've been working hard to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system not only through the clemency initiative, but also by supporting the Fair Sentencing Act which created more parity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine; by working to change our charging and sentencing policies through the Smart on Crime Initiative; by working with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce guidelines for certain drug offenders; and by urging Congress to enact comprehensive sentencing reform legislation.

And a lot of work has gone into the clemency initiative to get us to this historic announcement today. Since the initiative was announced in 2014, thousands of petitions have been submitted and reviewed by the hard working attorneys in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, my office, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and the White House to identify nonviolent drug offenders whose sentences would be significantly lower if they were sentenced today. While we are proud of the progress we’ve made so far, as I have said before, our work is still not done. We will continue to make recommendations on clemency applications until the end of the Administration, fulfilling the goals we set more than two and a half years ago when we launched the clemency initiative.