President Obama just released 46 drug offenders because 'the punishment didn't fit the crime.'

It was time.

"Their punishments didn't fit the crime."

Photo by Marc Nozell/Flickr.


President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders today. Some had been in prison for over a decade. Many were serving life sentences. A White House blog post refers to the sentences the 46 individuals received as "unduly harsh."

In a Facebook post, the White House noted that almost all of the people released today were sentenced long ago when drug laws were more stringent, and would have already finished their prison time if they had been sentenced under today's laws. All 46 of them will now have a chance to move on with their lives, which is long-overdue good news for them and their families.

Each individual receiving a commutation got a personal letter from the president upon their release. According to the Washington Post, this was the most sentence commutations in a single day since the Johnson administration.

For the people whose sentences were commuted, this is a really big deal. And symbolically, it's huge, too.

Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr.

Jackie Johnson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "possession with intent to distribute cocaine."

Jerry Allen Bailey was sentenced to 30 years in jail for "conspiracy to violate narcotics laws."

Larry Belcher was sentenced to life in prison for possession with intent to distribute.

We're used to hearing numbers like this in the United States. But if you take a step back, prison terms this long — for people who aren't at all violent — are mind-boggling. That's longer than many assault sentences, and even longer than the recommended sentence for manslaughter in some states.

Manslaughter, for the record, is killing someone.

Releasing these 46 individuals is a sign that the president recognizes the injustice of that — and that's really important.

Real talk: It's just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo by Bob Jagendorf/Flickr.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, nearly half of all federal inmates — just shy of 100,000 people as of May 2015 — are doing time for drug offenses. It is by far the largest category.

Many drug crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences, which mean no matter what the context of the offense is, judges are required to impose a sentence of a minimum number of years. Not only has this led to an untold number of horror stories of people sentenced to decades in prison for seemingly minor drug crimes, it has also helped the United States build the largest prison population in the world.

Releasing 46 people who had more than paid their debt to society is a fine start, but we still have a long way to go before we have a justice system that is truly fair to nonviolent drug offenders.

But in the meantime, props to President Obama for doing the right thing by these 46 people and for getting an important conversation started.

No one can give those 46 individuals their time back. But there are reports that Obama is actively trying to get the Justice Department to speed up the clemency process for other nonviolent drug offenders. That's fantastic.

Hopefully he'll succeed. Because there are a whole heck of a lot of people in prison right now who deserve a second chance.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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