Pres. Obama commutes sentences for 58 people, including a man from Milwaukee

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President Obama speaks in the Oval Office.

MILWAUKEE/WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama on Thursday shortened the prison sentences for dozens of additional drug offenders, the latest in an ongoing attempt to rein in lengthy punishments for non-violent crimes. One of the 58 individuals who had their sentences commuted is from Milwaukee.

According to a statement from the White House, the Milwaukee man who had his sentence commuted on Thursday is Lavelle Span, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, and two counts of distribution of cocaine base out of the Western District of Wisconsin.

Span was sentenced to serve 372 months (31 years) in prison, and five years extended supervision. That sentence was handed down on May 26th, 1999 — nearly 17 years ago.

Span’s sentence will expire on September 2nd, 2016.

The White House said Obama had approved reduced sentences for 58 individuals, including Span.

All but one had been convicted of drug-related crimes, many of them involving the distribution of “cocaine base,” or crack.

Obama has argued that laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences for those types of crimes are unfair and has sought to reduce the prison terms for individuals who would already be free under current guidelines.

“As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities,” Obama wrote in a post on the website Medium on Thursday. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And it’s something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office.”

In all, Obama has commuted the sentences for 306 prisoners, including 110 people who were serving life sentences. That’s well beyond the commutation records of previous presidents, though Obama has granted fewer pardons, which would restore some rights back to convicted felons.

He’s also pressed Congress to take up criminal justice reform, an issue that’s gained bipartisan support in the past several years.

“While I will continue to review clemency applications, only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing,” Obama wrote Thursday. “That is why I am encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in Congress to reform federal sentencing laws, particularly on overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.”

The recipients of Obama’s commutations have issued praise for the President’s actions, including in March when the White House announced 61 reduced sentences.

“I told President Obama today that you never want to underestimate the power of one act of kindness,” Phillip Emmert said in an interview with CNN after having lunch with the President. “It changes people’s lives. When they see that people really do care about them, care about their future, care that they want to see them as a success, it changes people’s lives, especially people as powerful as President Obama.”

2 comments

  • Doug

    Would love to see follow on what these criminals are going with this “act of kindness”? I would bet big money that within a year they are breaking the law again.

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