Voice of America

Obama Commutes Record Number of Sentences for Non-Violent Offenders

FILE - In this 2015 photo, a fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

FILE – In this 2015 photo, a fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

As his days in office wane, U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing to commute sentences of non-violent drug offenders convicted under what the White House called “outdated and unduly harsh” sentencing laws. It has become the centerpiece of his effort to reform the country’s criminal-justice system, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Last Friday, the President granted commutations to 42 convicted nonviolent offenders, bringing the total so far in his presidency to 348 commutations — more than any president has in nearly half a century. His predecessor, George W. Bush granted clemency in just 11 cases.

It’s not just Obama pushing for reform. Top Republicans and Democrats in Congress also support relaxing the sentencing laws that have tripled the federal and state prison populations in the last 30 years, reaching more than 1.56 million inmates at the end of 2014.

VOA Special Report: Unlocking Potential

However in Congress, the main legislative effort for sentencing changes, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, has failed to pass either chamber of Congress. The bill would reduce long mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent drug crimes, give judges more control over the terms of punishment and provide inmates with more opportunities to get out early by participating in rehabilitation programs.

White House: US Obligated to Protect NATO Allies

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The White House says a U.S. plan to deploy forces in eastern Europe and the Baltics is still in its early planning stages, and says it is part of a decades-old NATO mandate to protect European allies.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest spoke Monday, in the Obama administration’s first public comments on the deployment plan since it was first reported Saturday in the New York Times.

“We signed a NATO treaty that provides for the defense of our allies and that is a treaty that the United States and this president is serious about upholding,” Earnest told reporters at the daily White House briefing.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that if the plan is approved by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and President Barack Obama, the U.S. will store fighting vehicles and position as many as 5,000 troops in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland and possibly Hungary.

All seven countries are NATO members.

The Polish defense ministry said the plan would call for the U.S. to deploy battle tanks and other equipment in Poland. Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said Sunday he discussed the plan with U.S. military officials in Washington last month and was assured a decision would be made soon.

The plan to preposition weaponry and troops in Eastern Europe would be the first time the U.S. has embarked on such a military presence in the region since the end of the Cold War. It is part of the NATO military alliance’s plan to develop rapid deployment “Spearhead” forces to deter any further Russian intervention beyond its annexation last year of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and a signal that the U.S. would come to the defense of its NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

Exclusive: Malala’s Father on Peace Prize

Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai observes as her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, meets U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. headquarters Aug. 18, 2014.

Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai observes as her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, meets U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. headquarters Aug. 18, 2014.

The father of Malala Yousafzai, one of this year’s two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, tells VOA he is proud his teenaged daughter has emerged as a voice for peace from a region affected by terrorism and extremism.

Ziauddin Yousafzai told VOA’s Deewa service that he wants his 17-year-old daughter to focus on her education. He said Malala was in her chemistry class at school when the news that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize was announced.

He said his daughter is happy to have won the prize, but feels the burden of responsibility that comes with it. He says Malala will continue to work for girls’ education and peace.

The Pakistan-born Malala is the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. She said Friday she accepted her award on behalf of “all those children who are voiceless.”

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