When we elect a president, we give them extraordinary power, including the power to grant clemency — to pardon or commute the sentence of someone convicted of a federal offense. A commutation means their sentence is reduced and they are often set free. President Obama has commuted the federal sentences of 348 people, more than the past seven presidents combined.
“This feels so weird. After 21 years it feels really weird to walk out of that gate without being shackled or handcuffed or escorted by two or three officers it’s just – it’s a great feeling”
– Ramona Brant
Last December 95 prisoners had their sentences shortened by President Obama. This was part of an ongoing effort to use clemency to free non-violent drug offenders who were given harsh sentences for their crimes. For 53 year old Ramona Brant this meant she would not spend the rest of her life in prison. Brant was a first time offender convicted in 1995 on charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.
This summer Life of the Law is presenting some of the best and the brightest new voices in investigative reporting and audio production. This week’s episode is from Shandukani Mulaudzi of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Reporter Shandukani Mulaudzi met Brant on February 2, as she was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Mulaudzi later traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Brant — as part of the clemency agreement — is living in a halfway house until mid-April.
Clemency was reported by Shandukani Mulaudzi and edited by Ann Cooper with production support from Jonathan Hirsch, Nancy Mullane, and Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle.
Special thanks to Kerry Donahue, coordinator of the audio program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Amy Povah of Can-Do Clemency for her support, and Romana Brant for sharing her story.
Music in this episode is from Alexander Liebermann.
- White House: “President Obama Has Now Commuted the Sentences of 348 Individuals”
- Fusion: Justice, Finally
- New Yorker: “Why Hasn’t Obama’s Clemency Initiative Helped More Nonviolent Drug Offenders?”
- Fusion: “The Bold Step President Obama Could Take to Let Thousands of Federal Inmates Go Free”
- NY Times: “It’s Time to Overhaul Clemency”
- NPR: ‘It’s Just the Beginning Now,’ Says Man Freed From Serving 2 Life Sentences
- NPR: “Justice Reform Advocates Urge Obama To Speed Action On Clemency”
- NPR: After Prison, Then Clemency, ‘I Can Do the Right Thing’
This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part by grants from the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, the Proteus Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
Clemency was sponsored by The Great Courses Plus.com/law.
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