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Obama commutes sentences of 4 Michigan prisoners

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentences of 79 more prisoners, including four from Michigan.

“It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or sometimes life, in prison. That’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not serving the public safety,” Obama said in a Facebook post. “Instead, it burdens our already overcrowded prisons. And it hurts families.”

Obama commuted the sentence of Orlando Keith McCord, 49, of Flint to expire on Nov. 22, 2018, conditioned on his enrolling in a residential drug treatment program.

McCord was sentenced in 2007 in the Eastern District of Michigan to 180 months in prison and eight years’ probation for possession with intent to distribute 5 grams or more of cocaine base. He is at the low-security Elkton penitentiary in Lisbon, Ohio.

The sentence of Cynthia Valdez Shank, 43, of Lansing was commuted to expire March 22. She is held in Nashville.

In 2008, she was sentenced to 180 months in prison and five years’ probation and fined $10,000 on charges including possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine; possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine; and possession with intent to distribute 40 pounds of marijuana. The unpaid balance of her $10,000 fine was also remitted.

Marco Strickland, 43, of Detroit was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 on a charge of attempted possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. His sentence was commuted to 168 months’ imprisonment. He is at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.

Damarlon Cenaka Thomas, 31, of Saginaw was sentenced in 2008 to 230 months’ imprisonment and eight years of probation for distribution of 5 grams or more of crack cocaine. He is also at the prison in Lisbon, Ohio. His sentence was commuted to expire March 22.

Obama has granted 839 commutations this year and more than 1,000 during his administration — more than most presidents, according to the White House.

The majority have gone to nonviolent offenders sentenced for low-level drug crimes under what Obama called “overly harsh and outdated” sentencing rules. Nearly a third of those commuted were life sentences.

The White House has called on Congress to take up criminal justice reform.

“We as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility for their mistakes are able to earn a second chance to contribute to our communities and our country. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do,” Obama said on Facebook.

“Now it’s up to good minds on both sides of the aisle to come together to restore fairness in our criminal justice system, use our tax dollars more effectively, and give second chances to those who have earned them.”

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