President Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 330 inmates on his final full day in office, the White House announced.
Obama has set a record with his aggressive use of clemency power. The 1,715 commutations granted during his eight years in office are more than any president in the nation’s history. Of those, 568 were sentenced to life in prison.
“You have been granted a second chance because the president sees the potential in you,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post. “The president concluded that you have taken substantial steps to remedy your past mistakes and that you are deserving of a second chance.”
This latest round comes just two days after Obama doled out 209 commutations and 64 pardons, including a shorter prison stay for former Army soldier Chelsea Manning.
Obama received blowback from Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill over the decision to set Manning’s release for May 17, 2017.
The former army private, who is transgender, received a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information about U.S. national security activities that were later disclosed by WikiLeaks – the longest sentence anyone’s ever received for a leak conviction.
Retired Gen. James Cartwright was also given a second chance. The former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was accused of lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters regarding U.S. efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program was among those pardoned this week.
But Thursday’s batch did not contain those types of names or other well-known political figures who have typically received clemency from past presidents during their final days.
For example, Obama faced pressure to offer commutations or pardons to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).
Instead, the list was made up of non-violent drug offenders on whom Obama has focused his attention during the past two-plus years.
Obama started a clemency initiative in 2014 designed to shorten drug sentences he views as unjust.
In many cases, the sentences were handed down under federal mandatory minimum guidelines that have since been rolled back by Congress.
But conservatives have been critical of the unprecedented rate at which Obama has granted clemency.
"People say, well why should we change the sentencing rules in criminal justice reform if the president can just do it with a flick of his pen?” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas) said earlier this week.
Clemency advocates praised Obama for his action Thursday, calling it a “last act of mercy.”
“With this last act of mercy, President Obama has closed out a historic effort to restore some balance and fairness to a federal prison system that has caused needless destruction of thousands of lives and families,” Jessica Jackson Sloan, #Cut50’s national director, said in a statement.
The group, which is working to cut the prison population in half, called on President-elect Donald Trump to pick up where Obama left off.
“Clemency can and should continue to play an important role in ensuring that justice is administered smartly and equally,” Sloan said. “We hope President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE will continue granting mercy to families desperately seeking to be reunited with their loved ones.”
More than half of all federal prisoners are serving time for drug convictions, and #Cut50 said the vast majority had no prior criminal history.
- Updated at 3:29 p.m.