President Obama has commuted the sentences of 153 prisoners and pardoned 78 more. It’s the biggest act of presidential clemency on a single day—ever. And it’s only a drop in the bucket.
The US is home to about 5 percent of the world’s population–and more than 20 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Harsh sentencing laws, like mandatory minimums, often give a judge no choice but to hand down lengthy sentences—including life in prison.
In 1980, 41,000 Americans were locked up for drug offenses. By 2014 that number was 488,000.
Starting in 1988, possession of as little as 5 grams of crack cocaine triggered a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 to 20 years behind bars.
Laws like these disproportionately affect African-Americans. Who make up 13 percent of the total population, but 38% of the drug offenders in state prisons.
Now, President Obama is trying to undo some of the system’s most unfair sentences.
Michael Moynihan reports from California.
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