University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Mark Osler, a leading advocate for federal criminal justice reform, has joined a group of federal defenders and legal advocates who will conduct an initial screening of the 18,000 prisoners who last month applied to have their sentences commuted through President Barack Obama’s new drug clemency program.
The founder of the nation’s first law school clinic on federal commutations, which is housed at St. Thomas, Osler is working with Clemency Project 2014 to train volunteer attorneys to vet applications to determine which should be forwarded on to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Osler, who told Yahoo News this week that he expects “to enlist some of the smartest attorneys in the United States to help,” will hold a training session in New York City in mid-June.
The effort comes after Attorney General Eric Holder announced in April that the White House would consider more clemency applications than in the past “to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety.”
The move is likely aimed at the thousands of nonviolent inmates who are serving long sentences under outdated federal sentencing guidelines, most related to drug convictions.
Osler has been an outspoken advocate for an expansive use of the presidential pardon power, with his work toward criminal justice reform profiled recently on the pages of The New York Times and the American Prospect. He is joined in Clemency Project 2014 by the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.