President Obama just commuted the largest number of federal prisoners in one day in more than a century. Of of the 214 prisoners, 71 were serving life sentences — most for a nonviolent crime related to drug possession or intent to sell.
This raises the number of sentences shortened by Obama to 562, which passes the number of commutations made by the past nine presidents combined. Of those, 197 were life sentences.
“All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,’” wrote Neil Eggleston, White House counsel, in a blog post following the announcement.
Many of these inmates were originally sentenced under a now-defunct mandatory minimum sentence scheme, which was based on racist and scientifically unsound myths about crack cocaine. Prior to 2010, sentences for crack cocaine were 100 times harsher than for crimes involving powder cocaine. Congress reduced that disparity in 2010 to 18 to 1, but the law was not considered entirely retroactive — meaning thousands of people are still behind bars serving sentences now considered unlawful.
Eggleston said that Obama closely examined each prisoner’s request for clemency before settling on a new release date. Some prisoners will be processed out of federal custody “immediately.” Most will be released on December 1, 2016.
“Underlying all the President’s commutation decisions is the belief that these deserving individuals should be given the tools to succeed in their second chance,” Eggleston continued.
While his commutation record goes beyond any recent president’s, Obama promised in 2014 to grant clemency to 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders by the end of his presidency. Granting clemency to prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug crimes has been a major focus of the Obama Administration