John Legend Urges Obama to Pardon Non-Violent Offenders

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President Obama’s time in the White House is coming to an end, but he’s staying busy. He has made an effort to get as much done as possible before leaving; such as announcing the biggest protected marine monument in the world, signing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, and commuting the sentences of 944 inmates. Now, John Legend has another suggestion.

The Grammy Award winning musician wrote an open letter to Obama, published in Rolling Stone, asking him to pardon federal inmates who are jailed for non-violent drug offenses before January. In the letter, Legend praises the Obama administration for doing so much to end juvenile solitary confinement and to reduce the use of private prisons. As it is unclear what will happen when Donald Trump takes office, he urged the president to “bring justice to the thousands of families of non-violent drug offenders who have waited far too long for Congress to act.” He wrote:

In 2014, you set out to reinvigorate our country’s approach to clemency. Your actions to commute the sentences of 944 individuals, including 324 life sentences, is unprecedented in the modern era. Nonetheless, more action is needed to dismantle the unjust policies of the past 40 years.

He also said that approximately 36,000 non-violent drug offenders currently behind bars have asked Obama for pardon under his clemency initiative, and it’s unclear how many will be reviewed in time. That’s why he is suggesting categorical commutations, to end the injustices.

Legend points out that drug addiction is not a moral failing, but a chronic health issue. There is also a big discrepancy in how slight variations in drugs are treated differently before the law. Crimes involving crack cocaine, which is more commonly used by black users and sold on the streets, are punished more severely than those involving powder cocaine, which is more expensive and more likely to be used by white people.

And for Legend, it’s also a personal issue. His mother struggled with depression and drug abuse, and ended up in prison when he was a teenager. Earlier this year he started the initiative Free America, with Assistant District Attorney Adam Foss of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, in an effort to change criminal justice policies and keep teens out of prison. He told the Guardian in July:

You begin to realize how much trauma and pain and abuse [the inmates] have been victims of themselves before they got to prison, and since they’ve been in prison. And you realize that it’s just a cycle that keeps repeating,

Hopefully, Legend’s efforts will not be for nothing when the next administration takes office.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at EVonZeipel@LawStreetMedia.com.



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