Criminal-sentencing reform “is something that matters to the president,” Attorney General Eric Holder tells departing New York Times columnist Bill Keller. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.” Keller writes that so far, the Obama administration’s record on the subject “has been more incremental than its rhetoric.” He notes that “in overstuffed federal prisons, the population continues to grow, fed in no small part by Obama’s crackdown on immigration violators.”
Keller credits the administration with signed the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act on crack-cocaine sentences and supports the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act. He also has told prosecutors to avoid routinely seeking maximum sentences for low-level offenders, and created an Interagency Reentry Council to promote re-entry of prisoners into society. still, that uses federal guidance to whittle away at the barriers to employment, housing and education so that released prisoners have some hope of becoming productive citizens. Still, Obama has been “the stingiest of recent presidents in using his powers of pardon and commutation to undo the damage of the crack panic and of sentencing that keeps prisoners in lockup long past the age when they represent a danger,” Keller says.