DRUG WAR PRISONER
Last week, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates, potentially freeing a Springfield man given a life sentence for possessing crack cocaine in 1997. Obama’s move also set a record for most commutations in a single day, raising his total number of commutations to 562 – more than the previous nine presidents combined. The Springfield man who received a commutation is Charlie Lawuary, who is imprisoned at Greenville Federal Correctional Institute, 70 miles south of Springfield. Lawuary, like most of the others who received commutations on Aug. 3, was a nonviolent drug offender – the kind prison reform advocates want to divert to drug treatment programs instead of putting behind bars. Since Lawuary’s conviction and sentence of life imprisonment, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 officially recognized the disproportionate sentences for crack versus powder cocaine, reducing the sentencing guidelines for crack. However, the law was not made retroactive for those already sentenced. (See “Black behind bars,” Feb. 4, 2016.) Lawuary asked U.S. District Judge Richard Mills of Springfield to reduce his sentence under the new law, but Mills denied the petition. Pursuant to Obama’s commutation order, Lawuary was supposed to be released on Aug. 3, but his release is conditioned upon him entering residential drug treatment, which is in short supply in Illinois. (See “Imprisoned for poverty,” Jan. 22, 2015.) Lawuary is still incarcerated, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Obama also commuted the sentences of 12 other prisoners from Illinois on Aug. 3.