On Thursday, President Obama granted commutations to 98 more federal inmates, on top of the 102 commutations he granted earlier this month. That brings the total for this year to 688 — more than any other year in American history.
Forty-two of the individuals receiving commutations on Thursday were originally handed life-sentences.
Obama has granted commutations to more inmates than the previous 11 presidents combined, and more than any other single president in nearly a century. Today’s announcement brings the total to 872 commutations, which, unlike a full pardon, shorten the length of a sentence while leaving other consequences — such as restrictions on firearms ownership — in place.
President Obama has made commutations a priority for his administration as a way of rectifying the harsh, often mandatory sentences imposed on drug crimes as part of the war on drugs. Those mandatory minimum sentences are based on racist and scientifically unsound myths around crack cocaine, which made sentences for the drug — which is more commonly used by people of color and low-income communities — 100 times harsher than sentences for crimes involving the nearly identical powder cocaine, whose user base is largely white.
While the disparity in punishment was lessened by Congress in 2010, the change wasn’t retroactive, leaving thousands incarcerated and serving lengthy sentences that would currently be considered unlawful.
As part of a clemency initiative announced in 2014, the president has effectively shortened hundreds of sentences for non-violent drug offenders to the sentences they would receive under the updated, more lenient guidelines. However, while Obama’s commutation record now surpasses more than any president in living memory, in 2014 he pledged to shorten the sentences of 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders by the end of his presidency — a number he’s still fallen far short of.