Federal prisoner Arnold Ray Jones was one of almost 30,000 applicants seeking executive clemency from President Obama, including those who took part in Clemency Project 2014, which was launched to provide much-needed relief to drug offenders serving long mandatory minimum sentences. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.22; May 2016, p.46]. As of late October, 873 federal prisoners had been granted commutations, and Jones was pleased to be one of the select few until he heard about the condition imposed on his early release: participation in a residential drug treatment program.
“No thanks,” was his response.
Jones did the math and weighed his options. Convicted of a drug trafficking offense in 2002, he was scheduled to get out in April 2019 – only eight months longer than if he accepted the presidential commutation. To obtain the eight-month sentence reduction, he would have to participate in an intensive Residential Drug and Alcohol Program, or “RDAP.”
Although the idea of substance abuse treatment seems beneficial in the abstract, a prisoner such as Jones, who has been in the federal prison system for many years, knows that the institutional reality is much different. Prisoners who have gone through RDAP report the program is nine months of what often amounts to daily staff harassment, scripted confrontations with staff and required public “confessions” of their alleged failure to follow program rules. There is little actual drug treatment.
As a result, Jones decided he would be better served by doing the rest of his time in the manner in which he had completed the first 12 years of his sentence – by following the rules and committing himself to self-improvement, characteristics that won him the notice of pardon officials and the President himself as someone who is a deserving candidate for early release.
Nonetheless, 872 other fortunate prisoners have accepted some form of sentence relief as a result of presidential clemency, in the form of commutations rather than pardons. A pardon erases a conviction while commutation shortens a sentence, and most commutations granted by previous presidents have been for “time served,” which means that after a short time, typically to make halfway house arrangements, the prisoner is freed. President Obama, however, has attached conditions to some of his commutations, requiring drug treatment or otherwise delaying releases. According to one news report, since August 3, 2016, 22% of federal commutations have required prisoners to participate in drug treatment programs.
Perhaps someone should advise the President that a prisoner who has been incarcerated for more than a decade, and who has followed prison rules and abstained from drugs and alcohol for that entire period of time, would probably not benefit much from RDAP. Such prisoners are deserving of immediate release and should not have to jump through additional hoops to return home to their families.
Source: USA Today
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