On Tuesday, President Barack Obama shortened the sentences of 111 federal prisoners, marking the highest number of reduced sentences ever granted in a single month.
CNN reports that in addition to the latest batch of reduced sentences, President Obama is responsible for reducing a total of 673 prisoners’ time spent behind bars. Most inmates were convicted on drug-related, non-violent crimes. August marks the month with the highest amount of prisoners released, equaling 325 people.
The president said he wanted to help the justice system in becoming more fair, which includes changing the mandatory prison sentence length for non-violent criminals. Under the new guidelines, all prisoners released on Tuesday would have had different sentence lengths had they committed the crimes today. A third of the inmates were serving life sentences.
According to a statement from Obama’s attorney, Neil Eggleston,
“We must remember that these are individuals — sons, daughters, parents, and, in many cases, grandparents — who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance. For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance.”
USA Today reports that the White House is currently working through a backlog of over 11,000 pending cases. The effort is part of the president’s clemency initiative that began a few years ago. Known as commutations, the initiative shortens criminal sentences, backed by the president. According to Obama,
“As successful as we’ve been in reducing crime in this country, the extraordinary rate of incarceration of nonviolent offenders has created its own set of problems that are devastating. Entire communities have been ravaged where largely men, but some women, are taken out of those communities. Kids are now growing up without parents It perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disorder in their lives. It is disproportionately young men of color that are being arrested at higher rates, charged and convicted at higher rates, and imprisoned for longer sentences.”
The majority of convicts were convicted of drug crimes related to cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine trafficking, or possession of marijuana. A total of 16 released convicts had firearm offenses. A number of convicts were serving life sentences from convictions that dated back to the 1990s.
For instance, Rudy Martinez, who’ll receive a grant for release on December 28, was serving a life sentence from a 1992 conviction of dealing drugs. In 1990, Darryl Lamar Reed was convicted of selling crack in Northern California. He was also granted a release for December 28.
While reducing sentences at a higher rate than the past 10 presidents combined, Obama is also denying requests at an even higher rate. Around 2,227 requests from current prisoners were denied on August 8.
According to Eggleston, the president will continue to reduce sentences until he’s no longer in office, but he also takes his time with each case to ensure he’s making the right decision. He gives an individualized review to each inmate, looking over their prison records, crimes, and if to see they’ve proven they deserve a second chance. At the same, Eggleston said, Obama “doesn’t think of it as a number he wants to reach.” The lawyer also said,
“The president’s view is that he would like to grant as many worthy petitions as get to his desk and I think he’s going to tell me to put worthy petitions on his desk until the last day, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Not everyone agrees with releasing convicts, whether they are in prison on non-violent charges or not. A number of social media users accused the president of not caring about the welfare of the general public, while others accused him of being anti-American.
Regardless, even if Obama continues to hand out more reduced sentences at a record pace, he’ll only be able to reach a fraction of the non-violent drug criminals who are currently behind bars.
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