Durbin Commends President for Commuting Sentences of 95 Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Durbin advocated for Illinois’ Alton Mills, among those to be released under new Department of Justice initiative

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), sponsor of the Fair Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, commended President Obama today for commuting the sentences of 95 Americans, including Alton Mills and eight other Illinoisans. After learning of Mr. Mills’ story and meeting with his family and attorney, Durbin wrote President Obama in support of Mr. Mills’ petition for commutation of his sentence earlier this month. Mr. Mills has served 22 years of a mandatory life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.


“An overlooked casualty in our ‘war on drugs’ are the men and women who have been convicted under disproportionately harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These people, like Illinoisan Alton Mills, are victims of some of the most egregious inequities in our criminal justice system,” Durbin said. “I am very glad to see President Obama take action today to give 95 Americans a second chance. As we move forward with criminal justice reform in Congress, I urge the President to continue using the clemency process to improve the fairness of our criminal justice system.”


Mr. Mills was convicted in 1994 for acting as a street-level courier in a crack cocaine conspiracy. At his sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen said “if I were free to sentence [Mr. Mills] … it would be something other than life.” Like Durbin, Judge Aspen also wrote a letter supporting commutation of Mr. Mills’ sentence.


While Congress must take action to reform our drug sentencing laws, Durbin has called on President Obama to use his pardon power to help those who are still serving lengthy sentences that are now widely recognized as unjust. In April, the Department of Justice announced a new Clemency Initiative for pardon petitioners who meet certain criteria, including non-violent low-level offenders who would likely receive a lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today. There has been a reduction in recent years in the number of Presidential pardons and commutations, despite an increase in requests that many attribute to lengthier federal drug sentences.


Durbin has long championed efforts to address inequalities in the criminal justice system and mandatory minimum sentencing. In 2010, President Obama signed into law Durbin’s Fair Sentencing Act. The bipartisan bill to curtail the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine marked the first time Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum since the Nixon administration. Durbin has since sponsored both the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, grants judges greater sentencing flexibility for certain low-level drug offenders and establishes recidivism reduction programs, while targeting violent criminals.