President Obama on Monday granted clemency to 231 federal inmates, the most in a single day by any president in U.S. history.
Obama commuted the prison sentences of 153 people and pardoned 78 others, a sign he is ramping up his use of clemency power during his final weeks in office.
The president has frequently doled out commutations as his final months in office wane. But he has seldom handed out pardons, which formally forgive prisoners for their crimes and restore certain rights. Commutations simply cut short their sentences.
With Monday’s grants, Obama has more than doubled the number of people he has pardoned as president, according to the White House, a number that now stands at 148. He has now commuted the sentences of 1,176 people, including 395 serving life sentences.
“Today’s acts of clemency — and the mercy he has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients — exemplify his belief that America is a nation of second chances,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.
The announcement was made during the president's holiday vacation in Hawaii.
The grants come as Obama faces pressure from criminal-justice reform advocates to pick up the pace before he leaves office on Jan. 20.
They fear that President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE, who campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, will scale back or eliminate the use of clemency for large groups of federal inmates.
Eggleston said the president will make more clemency grants before he leaves office.
Obama has granted clemency more times than any U.S. president, part of his effort to free inmates serving lengthy sentences handed down during the government's War on Drugs.
A bipartisan push in Congress to overhaul the nation’s sentencing laws sputtered during Obama’s second term. Thus he has relied on his clemency initiative, which began in 2014, to accomplish his goal of shortening sentences he and others view as draconian.
The president has repeatedly denounced long sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, saying they’ve had a disproportionate affect on communities of color.
The clemency initiative identifies federal prisoners deserving of an early release. Prisoners must be low-level, nonviolent offenders who have served at least a decade of their sentence, demonstrated good behavior and have no significant criminal history or a history of violence.
Eggleston said Obama’s actions only provide a partial fix, writing that “only Congress can achieve the broad reforms needed” to make the criminal-justice system more fair.
But Obama’s critics say he has overstepped his authority and put dangerous criminals back into their communities.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick for attorney general, in 2014 called the president’s initiative “an alarming abuse of the pardon power.”
But Obama’s supporters say he could be even more generous with his commutation grants.
Sentencing-reform advocates have generally applauded Obama’s efforts, even as they note that roughly 13,000 inmates’ petitions are still pending review with the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
They are concerned the vast majority of those people won’t get relief before Obama leaves office.
A coalition of advocacy groups last week delivered a petition to the president urging him to flex his muscles on clemency during his final month in the White House.
“We’re asking President Obama to continue his legacy of being an elected official of conscience by offering clemency to persons with federal, nonviolent drug convictions,” Hasshan Batts, a Pennsylvania activist, said in a statement.
Updated 3:33 p.m.