8News Investigates: The cost of incarceration

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After more than a decade, a local mom will soon get to see her son.

“I want to be able to walk up to my son and hug him and squeeze him and know he is there,” says Delores Williams.

Her son, Dante Williams, is one of two area men who will be released from prison after former President Barack Obama commuted their sentence during his final hours in office.

In total, President Obama granted 1,715 commutations — more than any other President in U.S. history.

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Dujuan Farrow (left) and Dante Williams (right) of Henrico County both had their sentences commuted by former President Barack Obama.

In just his last month in office, 11 Virginians had their sentences commuted. Many, like Delores’ son Dante, were sentenced under mandatory minimums and other guidelines no longer in effect today.

“It just left me speechless and I was so happy,” Delores recalled about when she learned Dante’s 30-year sentenced had been reduced.

Once Dante completes a drug treatment program, about 9 or 10 more months, he’ll be heading home to Henrico County.

Delores says Dante, once an honor student and athlete, got in with the wrong crowd and made a mistake. He was convicted of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. He’s been serving time in a federal prison in Arkansas.

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“We haven’t had the resources to go,” Delores said. “It has been 12 years since I have seen him and I think about him all the time.”

Thanks to the work of some at the University of Richmond, another Henrico County man, Dujuan Farrow, is about to come home.

“We worked on the case I would say approximately two-and-a-half years. I am extremely proud to have represented him. Mr. Farrow is a resourceful, kind, dedicated, disciplined man,” Mary Tate, Director of the Institute of Actual Innocence at The University Of Richmond School of Law said.

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Tate and six of her students successfully petitioned the president to commute Farrow’s sentence.

“He spent the last 12 years psychologically under the belief he would die in prison,” Tate said.

Farrow was given a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense.

“The sentence that he had received for the facts that had been shown at trial was widely disproportionate, and essentially it had been a miscarriage of justice,” Tate explained.

Farrow and Williams are just two of thousands of non-violent drug offenders seeking commutation from epic sentences handed down under the bipartisan war on drugs, a movement that began with President Richard Nixon and grew with Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

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The result: Overcrowding in our correctional facilities.

Since the 1980s, the prison population in the U.S. has quadrupled to more than 2 million. One in five are locked up for drugs.

“This imposes tremendous fiscal costs, psychological costs,” Tate said.

Incarcerations are also costing taxpayers big bucks. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds the cost of mass incarceration to be $182 billion dollars a year. Virginia alone spends $1.5 billion dollars annually.

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“He has never in his history had any acts of violence or convictions of violence, Tate said about Farrow.

She add the Highland Springs High School grad and VSU student was simply in the wrong place at wrong time.

“He was a passenger in a car with an old friend and that old friend was the object of a considerable sting operation, ” Tate explained.

However, mandatory minimums and a disparity in crack cocaine sentences in place the led to a sentence of life behind bars.

“This has had a devastating effect on communities all across the United States,” Tate suggested.

Particularly minority communities, according to Tate. Blacks were five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. Here in Virginia, 20 percent of the prison population is black.

“This is not something that can been fixed overnight,” Tate said.

Human rights advocates worry the strides the Obama administration made to undo the harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenders may come to a halt. President Trump has vowed to be a law and order president.

Regardless, to make a significant difference in the U.S. prison population and costs would likely require an act of Congress.

8News was able to correspond with Farrow from prison, he told us that once he got the news, he was so excited to get out he didn’t sleep for three days.

Both men have promises of jobs when they get out and a strong support system.

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