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Life sentences commuted for nonviolent drug offenders

Minnesota residents may know that there are people serving decades-long and life sentences in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Some people argue that handing lengthy sentences to nonviolent drug offenders leads to unnecessarily high incarceration rates. Since 1980, the prison population in the United States has grown from under 25,000 to over 200,000.

Over the past few years, President Barack Obama has been granting commutations to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer money and give deserving prisoners a second chance. Over one-third of the 673 inmates whose sentences have been cut short so far were serving life sentences in prison. Obama's most recent round of commutations were granted Aug. 30 when he shortened 111 federal prisoners' sentences. Earlier in August, 214 federal prisoners' sentences were commuted.

President Obama's use of his clemency authority has broken records, as no other president has ever granted such a high number of commutations in a single month. Since Obama began exercising his clemency authority, several legal groups have formed to support his actions. The groups seek out worthy candidates for clemency and submit clemency petitions to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice.

No one can predict whether the next president will grant commutations for nonviolent drug offenders, so a person who is serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug crimes may want to submit a petition for clemency as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney may be able help an inmate to gather documentation about their case and submit a petition for clemency. If petitioning for clemency is not possible, an attorney may help an inmate to pursue an appeal or prepare for a parole hearing.

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