James Cole, the second-in-command at the Justice Department, met yesterday with defense lawyers and interest groups to identify the cases of worthy prisoners who could qualify for clemency, NPR reports. The initiative indicates that the White House intends to make more use of the president’s power to shorten prison sentences for inmates who have clean records, no significant ties to gangs or violence, and who are serving decades behind bars for relatively low-level offenses.
Cole wants to enlist lawyers to help solicit and prepare clemency requests. It’s part of a broader effort to stop spending so much money on incarceration that it squeezes the public safety budget. Longtime followers of the pardon power have criticized President Obama’s relatively stingy approach. They also suggest that backlogs in the Justice Department’s Office of Pardon Attorney might get worse if the call for more prisoner petitions takes hold. Representatives from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Federal public defender program and Families Against Mandatory Minimums were scheduled to attend the meeting. Mary Price of FAMM, one of the attendees, says she came away feeling “really encouraged.”