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Has criminal sentencing reform now gained real, lasting traction?

If President Obama's recent exercise of presidential powers to commute the prison sentences of 22 drug offenders was carried out in the partisan manner that so often marks national politics, the act might indeed seem purely symbolic and underwhelming.

In truly notable fashion, though, the president's pen stroke that freed those prisoners was neither preceded nor followed by loud condemnation from critics. In fact, and over the past couple years, Capitol Hill has been notably marked by a strong showing of solidarity and bipartisan support for reform measures that appreciably alter policies and guidelines in the area of criminal law sentencing.

Many of our readers in Arkansas and elsewhere already know that, having followed the prolonged debate and discussions on things like mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, decades-long prison terms for low-level drug offenders and sentencing disparities that exist among various racial and income groups.

To the degree that a tailwind fostering unanimity and strong support for material sentencing changes ever existed, that time is most certainly now. Not everyone is on board for change, of course, but a growing consensus of individuals and widely varied groups has now aligned in support of sentencing adjustments regarded as being more fundamentally fair and cost efficient.

Prominent senators from both sides of the political aisle, for example, have together sponsored a bill that would curtail prosecutorial clout in sentencing matters through restoration of judges' discretionary powers.

The 22 freed prisoners is indeed a small number in the aggregate. In one fell swoop, though, it more than doubled all the commutations effected to that point during the Obama presidential reign.

And, given the clear bipartisan support for sentencing reform that has emerged, it could signify just the beginning of a prolonged era of significant adjustments in important criminal law matters.

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