More than 3,300 federal prisoners have applied for clemency under new government guidelines announced in April. That is almost five times the 702 who applied during the same period last year, The Associated Press reports.
The U.S. Justice Department has changed its regulations to increase the number of federal prisoners eligible to apply for clemency and early release. This is an effort to ease the rigid sentencing policies that were first introduced in the 1980s and 1990s.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who announced the new regulations, said many more inmates would be eligible to apply, but most likely only a small percentage would make it through the process before President Obama leaves office in 2017.
The new policy would allow prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes to apply for clemency if they have served 10 years or more in prison and would have received lesser sentences if convicted under today’s laws.
“Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system,” Cole said during a press conference reported by The New York Times. “I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals, (that of) equal justice under law.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that the disparity in sentences is a civil rights issue and has advocated for changes in sentencing structures.
According to The Clemency Project 2014, a coalition of defense lawyer groups and other organizations, “more than 20,000 federal prisoners have returned surveys seeking to have legal representation during the clemency process,” The AP reported.