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August 3, 2016

Prez Obama commutes 214 more federal sentences

Commutations_chart_0As reported here by Politico, "President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 214 people on Wednesday, bringing his total number of commutations to 562." Here is more about this latest encouraging clemency news, with some political context:

The president's biggest batch of commutations comes as Donald Trump touts a "law and order" message. But for advocates of sentencing reform, it's a sign that the administration isn't letting up on the 2014 Justice Department initiative to ease punishments for low-level drug offenders who received long sentences due to mandatory minimums. It includes 67 people who had been facing life sentences.

Obama has granted more commutations than his nine most recent predecessors combined, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston noted in a blog post on Wednesday.  However, he added, “Our work is far from finished. I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.”

While criminal justice reform advocates have cheered the intention behind the initiative, they’ve complained that the pace of commutations has failed to meet expectations and that the process appears arbitrary. Eggleston promised to speed things up this spring, noting new resources for the Pardon Attorney, and in April, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote to a consortium of defense attorneys helping prisoners to submit applications, urging them to get applications in by May....

This latest batch of commutations comes at a politically sensitive time, just two weeks after Trump stressed a “law and order theme” at the Republican National Convention, with warnings of danger in the streets fueled by attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge.... The focus on policing issues has drawn public attention away from the broader criminal justice reform agenda. Though there is bipartisan support for changes that would reduce mass incarceration, and the House is expected to vote on sentencing reform when it returns in September, advocates acknowledge that prospects for full passage before the election look grim.

The chart reprinted above comes from the White House blog posting by Eggleston, which also includes these statements of note:

Today began like any other for 214 federal inmates across the country, but ultimately became a day I am confident they will never forget. This morning, these individuals received a message from the President: your application for clemency has been granted.

This news likely carries special weight to the 67 individuals serving life sentences – almost all for nonviolent drug crimes – who, up until today, could only imagine what it might be like to once again attend a loved one’s birthday party, walk their child to school, or simply go to the grocery store. 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.”...

To date, President Obama has granted 562 commutations: more commutations than the previous nine presidents combined and more commutations than any individual president in nearly a century. Of those, 197 individuals were serving life sentences. And, today’s 214 grants of commutation also represent the most grants in a single day since at least 1900.....

In each of these cases, the President examines the application on its individual merits. As a result, the relief afforded is tailored specifically to each applicant’s case. While some commutation recipients will begin to process out of federal custody immediately, others will serve more time.

For some, the President believes that the applicant’s successful re-entry will be aided with additional drug treatment, and the President has conditioned those commutations on an applicant’s seeking that treatment. For others, the President has commuted their sentences to a significantly reduced term so they are consistent with present-day sentencing policies. While these term reductions will require applicants to serve additional time, it will also allow applicants to continue their rehabilitation by completing educational and self-improvement programming and to participate in drug or other counseling services. 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.

The individual nature of the clemency process underscores both its incredible power to change a person’s life, but also its inherent shortcoming as a tool for broader sentencing reform. That is why action from Congress is so important. While we continue to work to act on as many clemency applications as possible, only legislation can bring about lasting change to the federal system. It is critical that both the House and the Senate continue to work on a bipartisan basis to get a criminal justice reform bill to the President's desk.

August 3, 2016 at 02:45 PM | Permalink


I read about this via Buzzfeed and the framing argues that the Obama Administration has made a historical use of his powers.

This depends on how you frame things but does partially answer somewhat more negative responses on this blog.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 3, 2016 2:49:43 PM

Almost all of the commuted sentences were for low level drug offenses. What about other low level crimes?

If the president believes that "America is a nation of second chances" then he can start by removing the target off the backs of sex offenders by getting rid of the registry.

Posted by: kat | Aug 3, 2016 3:41:49 PM

Great job Pres Obama, the guy is resilent and is getting things done. I hope he keeps right on mowing thru the pardon applicants and grants another 500+.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Aug 3, 2016 4:55:08 PM

There are about 2,000 nonviolent offenders in the federal system who received life sentences because of conspiracy charges and going to trial. These sentences need commutations. I hope that the pace picks up.

Posted by: beth | Aug 3, 2016 5:46:30 PM

I love the sex offender apologists -- it's like self-parody of the entitled white upper middle class man-child. "Durr, Obama pardoned a bunch of guys who were in prison for drugs. All I did was try to meet a 12 year old online, and it turned out to be a cop! That's not violent either, right?! Oh, I guess since I'm not a poor oppressed black guy who sold crack no one cares ::nice guy pout::"

Posted by: Jay | Aug 3, 2016 10:39:27 PM

Jay, meet straw man. Educate yourself on the myriad types of offenses now carry the scarlet letter. It is the remote outlier where a boogy-man is hiding in the bushes to jump your kid.

Posted by: MarK M. | Aug 4, 2016 2:12:26 AM

Jay: Mark said it best, educate yourself. Not everyone on the registry is a contact sex offender or an internet predator. Public urination, romeo and julliett high school romances, even skinny-dipping can get you on the registry. No one here is apologizing for sex-offenders, they just don't need to be labeled and put on a punative registry once they've served their time.

Posted by: kat | Aug 4, 2016 9:29:50 AM

Of course, I hope that all these criminals will justify the faith that Obama has placed in them. I will note, once again, the casual dishonesty of Barack Obama--some of these guys were convicted of being in felon-in-possession which means that they had to have done something before they got their whopper federal sentence--so that means we're giving them a third or fourth or fifth chance.

Obama is taking a big risk with these guys. Let's hope no one gets seriously victimized by these guys.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 4, 2016 11:52:38 AM

Federalist, the underlying felony for felon in possession convictions is usually (but not always) a drug conviction of some kind.

Posted by: anon13 | Aug 4, 2016 12:09:07 PM


You have absolutely no understanding of rational decision making, at least assuming you are being normative in the last line of your post. That some of these folks might reoffend in bad ways, says absolutely nothing about the wisdom and efficacy of this thoughtful process. Do you seriously contend that the commutations are proved wrong if there are some bad results in particular cases. In other words, 213 people should stay behind bars (and society should foot the bill) because one guy does something awful when he was released (and whose to say he wouldn't have done something awful if released at a later date)? Society obviously makes these calls whenever we make decisions about criminal justice; otherwise, we would blame the judge because someone got 10 years, served his full term, and then committed a murder on year 12? He should have gotten 15, and this would never have happened! Blame the judge! Why the special scrutiny for commutations, when this is inherent in all criminal justice decisions. Idiocy.

Posted by: Mark | Aug 4, 2016 12:29:53 PM

Im sure there is another Willie Horton in the mix and it will happen. But look at the benefits to the rest of the recipients and their families. Hey, almost all were going to get released anyway. Its been shown those that get out early go back slightly less than those who do their full term. So why continue with failed outdated efforts.

Any dumb bunnt knows that getting these leople valid job skills while in prison and continued supersion upon reentry is a much better way to go. How many of you people smoked Wacky tobaccy in your young days. Pres Obama did, and the guts to admit it.
Theres always a percent of these kids that gets hooked up to the wrong group. They get hooked immediately and build a very big record with owi, possesion, domestic assauly.
We've seen all of this in your local paper and on tv at night. Once these guys get clean and realize, hey I have a chance. Many make better choices. Yes some will forever be in out if trouble due to drugs. But many if these guys keep out of the way of serious trouble. As Martha Stewart would say "its a good thing".

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Aug 4, 2016 6:20:15 PM

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