A Kansas City man sentenced to almost 22 years in prison for a drug offense will see his sentence cut short this year as President Barack Obama announced Tuesday a new round of commutations for nonviolent drug offenders.
Maurice D. Ball, 40, was convicted nine years ago of cocaine possession with intent to distribute. His earliest possible date of release was in 2025. Instead, his sentence will expire Dec. 28.
Ball was convicted in June 2007 of possessing crack cocaine with intent to sell and sent to prison under the federal sentencing guidelines in effect at the time. But in November 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission lowered those sentencing guidelines.
Ball is among 111 federal inmates gaining early release. Obama has long called for phasing out strict sentences for drug convictions, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries.
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said the commutations underscored the president’s commitment to using his clemency authority to give deserving individuals a second chance. He said that Obama has granted a total of 673 commutations, more than the previous 10 presidents combined. More than a third of the recipients were serving life sentences.
“We must remember that these are individuals — sons, daughters, parents and, in many cases, grandparents — who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance,” Eggleston said. “They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes.”
Eggleston noted that Obama also granted commutation to 214 federal inmates earlier in the month. With Tuesday’s additions, Obama has granted the greatest number of commutations for a single month of any president.
Eggleston says he expects Obama to continue using his clemency authority through the end of his administration. He said the relief points to the need for Congress to take up criminal justice reform. Such legislation has stalled, undercut by a rash of summer shootings involving police and the pressure of election-year politics.
Two goals of the legislation are to reduce overcrowding in the nation’s prisons and save taxpayer dollars. In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.
But the legislation’s supporters have encountered opposition from some Republicans who argue that changes could lead to an increase in crime and pose a greater danger to law enforcement.
Eggleston said Obama considered the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group, said it had been working on behalf of nonviolent drug offenders serving long prison terms.
“Mandatory sentences, and especially mandatory life sentences for nonviolent offenses, should be abandoned once and for all,” said Julie Stewart, the group’s president. “We applaud the president for using the clemency power to free people who fully expected to die in prison and for shining a light on the excesses of federal drug sentencing.”
The release dates for the inmates vary. For most, Obama commuted their sentences to end Dec. 28.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.