The news that President Barack Obama ordered commutations and pardons for a group of non-violent drug offenders convicted before more recent sentencing guidelines took The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur by surprise on Thursday.
“President Obama, because of his track record, showed he had no interest in commuting sentences, or giving pardons,” Uygur said. He gave far less of both of those things than George W. Bush did. But I was wrong on this one, and I am relieved to report that I was wrong.”
In particular, Uygur said he was surprised and ecstatic to find that among the people covered in Obama’s order is Stephanie George, who was serving a life sentence without chance of parole despite being convicted under protest.
Uygur said he and his team had asked George’s family and lawyers about filming a documentary covering her 1997 conviction, her third on multiple drug-related charges. At the time, even Judge Roger Vinson said he wished he had another alternative than than the sentence mandated by the law.
“Her lawyers and her family said, ‘Hey, you know what? Let’s give President Obama a chance to do the right thing, and see if he commutes her sentence,” Uygur said. “I have to be honest with you: I thought that was foolishly naive.”
As the Associated Press reported, Obama issued eight commutation orders and pardons for a group of 13 people convicted on other charges prior to the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010. Each of the people involved in the decision had been in prison for at least 15 years.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama was quoted as saying. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
Uygur did note that Obama’s relatively tight hand when it comes to these types of orders, compared to his predecessor, George W. Bush.
“Let’s hope the president follows through and does more of this,” Uygur said. “We’re not interested in releasing dangerous people. Nobody’s asking for that. We’re saying, people who were sent to prison for far too long on minor offenses have been victims of the war on drugs, and it’s time to let them out.”
Watch Uygur’s commentary, as aired on Thursday, below.