President Obama announced Monday he will commute “unduly harsh sentences” for 46 federal prisoners as part of a big clemency push his administration has been promising for the past year.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years,” Obama said in a video announcing the commutations. “Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses.”
Nearly all of them would have already served their time had they been sentenced today, Obama said.
Obama is focusing on sentencing reform this week, visting a federal prison in Oklahoma and speaking to the NAACP on Tuesday about sentencing disparities.
“While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term, it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies,” Neil Eggleston, Counsel to the President, wrote in a blog post.
Obama has been criticized in the past for being unusually stingy with his clemency powers, and for fighting to keep most drug offenders in prison despite new sentencing guidelines that deemed their punishment unfair.
At least one of the inmates granted clemency Monday, Jerry Allen Bailey, was previously denied sentence reduction despite the new guidelines. The White House released the personal letter Obama wrote to Bailey:
Some senior officials have suggested the president could grant mass clemency before the end of his term.