Apr 01 2016

AL.com: Shelby has 'strong concerns' over Obama plan to commute Alabamians' gun convictions

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has "strong concerns" over the Obama administration commuting the sentences of 61 prisoners, including two from Alabama who were convicted on gun-related charges and are due to be released in July, the senator wrote to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday.

"I want to do everything I can to keep our communities safe, and that includes keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and violent offenders," Shelby wrote. "Right now, I am unsure if the administration shares that goal."

Shelby, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Justice Department,  said he opposes boosting operations for the department's pardon attorney's office in light of how the president is using his power to grant pardons and clemency.

The senator also said that the commutations are part of a pattern of the Obama administration not following its criteria of granting clemency to "non-violent," "low-level" federal offenders. Of the 200 sentences commuted, 33 involved inmates involved in gun crimes.

"Frankly, I am left wondering why the president and the Justice Department consider individuals who carry guns to drug deals as 'non-violent,'" Shelby said. "More importantly, it is unclear to me how these sentence commutations are making our communities safer."

Among those individuals Shelby was referring to were Ian Gavin and Jerome Harris of Mobile County.

Gavin was convicted of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and using or carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense in 2007. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and eight years of supervised release, but his sentence was now shortened to four years of supervised release.

Harris received 25 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release after he was convicted in 2006 for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

Both men are eligible to be released on July 28.