President Barack Obama used his executive power to commute the sentences of 214 federal prisoners on Wednesday, August 3. Of the sentences he cut short, nearly 70 were life sentences. The vast majority of the inmates who had their prison sentences commuted by President Obama were imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, and the vast majority of the prisoners who saw their sentences shortened were men.
According to an ABC News report, the drug-related offenses that the now-commuted inmates were involved included crimes involving meth, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. Some of the inmates that had sentences commuted by President Barack Obama were also being held for firearms crimes associated with drug convictions.
Reportedly, Barack Obama’s August 3 sentence reductions reflect the largest number of commutations one day in over 100 years.
President Barack Obama has long held a stance that many nonviolent drug offenders have been subjected to over-sentencing and erroneous, unfair mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The president has used his executive authority to shorten the sentences of hundreds of federal prisoners during his terms.
Overall, Barack Obama has shortened the sentences of 562 federal prisoners, meaning that he has done more to commute the sentences of federal inmates than the previous nine presidents put together. Of the hundreds of sentences that President Barack Obama has commuted during his presidency, roughly 200 of the prisoners involved were serving life terms.
Over the course of his presidency, President Obama has highly politicized his habit of aggressively commuting federal prison sentences. He’s done so in an effort to convince Congress to take legislative action to prevent future generations of Americans from being subjected to archaic and unjust mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.
Particularly in cases of nonviolent drug offenders, who make up a disproportionately high percentage of the U.S. prison population.
According to Neil Eggleston, White House counsel, President Obama’s history of executive clemency reflects his presidential and personal beliefs.
“All of the individuals receiving commutation today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances.”
Eggleston told the public that President Obama’s commutations start with a written application process, and that the president carefully considers each applicant’s merits and personal needs before making a decision regarding clemency. Some of the specific needs of individual federal inmates include the need for formal education, various forms of counseling, and/or access to comprehensive drug treatment programs. According to Eggleston, President Barack Obama would like to see U.S. legislators do what needs to be done to create and enact “lasting change to the federal system.”
While most former U.S. presidents have utilized their executive authority to shorten federal prison sentences and/or issue pardons toward the end of their terms, President Barack Obama handed out literally hundreds since the beginning of his presidency.
However, in addition to his history of meting out his version of equitable justice to federal inmates doing time for nonviolent drug offenders, the Obama administration has announced that the public should expect to see many more commuted sentences and federal pardons as President Barack Obama’s presidential career nears its end. According to Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, the public will be seeing federal prisoners being released at a rapid pace in the last few months of 2016.
“We are not done yet. We expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative.”
While President Barack Obama, his administration, and many Democrats fully support the practice of commuting prison sentences for nonviolent federal inmates, many on the political right are critical of his use of his executive power.
According to many, releasing so many federal prisoners early sends a terrible message to criminals with regard to breaking the law. Some are even questioning President Barack Obama’s decision to commute so many federal sentences in the midst of the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter political climate.
What do you think? Is it appropriate for a single president to commute more federal prisoners than the last nine combined? Is President Barack Obama within his rights and duty to continue his clemency efforts?
[Image via Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock]