Courts Ordering Federal Prison Releases Before Clemency Effort Can Help


NPR uses the case a former cheerleader now serving a 20-year federal drug term to illustrate why so many inmates are unlikely to be freed via ongoing clemency efforts. The woman, Dana Bowerman, is expected to be released in November by a judge after serving 14 years, but not through President Obama’s national clemency push, even though Bowerman fits the clemency criteria to a T. Her clemency petition is piled somewhere along with some 17,000 other applications. Instead, she’s getting out early because a judge approved her bid for a sentence reduction.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission said 9,500 prisoners like Bowerman have taken advantage of the court program to win early release starting this November. That is thousands more than are getting out through the highly touted clemency program. “The practical reality is that we are short on time and we are short on personnel,” said Rachel Barkow, a law professor at New York University who has launched an emergency “justice factory” to help process stacks of clemency applications. Two sources told NPR, that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has determined between 2,000 and 3,000 inmates are eligible for clemency under the criteria set out by the Justice Department and the White House. So far, President Obama has shortened the prison sentences of just 89 people.

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