61 Drug Offenders Just Had Their Sentences Commuted

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama speaks during a forum on criminal justice reform, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

President Obama announced on Wednesday that he would be commuting the prison sentences of 61 people serving sentences for drug-related offenses. The decision is the latest example of Obama’s effort to reform the country’s broken criminal justice system during his last term.

White House counsel Neil Eggleston told the AP that more than a third of the inmates benefiting from the decision are serving life sentences. And most of the 61 people serving time for drug possession, intent to sell or related crimes will be released July 28.

Obama has now commuted the sentences for a total of 248 inmates during his two terms. In December, he pardoned two federal prisoners and commuted the sentences of 95 more. Forty of those men and women were serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses.

The White House says that Obama has commuted more sentences than the past six presidents combined. But Vox reported Tuesday that the number still falls short of his 2014 promise to shorten 10,000 prison sentences.

“The requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard,” former Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff wrote the Office of the Pardon Attorney in her resignation letter in January. “This is inconsistent with the mission and values to which I have dedicated my life, and inconsistent with what I believe the Department should represent.”

Obama still has 10 months left in his term to get closer to the promised number, but Vox noted that it’s unlikely he will approve 10,000 applications for commutations between now and January 2017.

The decision on Wednesday also follows a White House announcement in January that Obama would ban solitary confinement for juvenile and low-level offenders in federal prisons. That announcement was the result of a six-month review by the U.S. Department of Justice, which was tasked with examining “the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons.”