Obama commutes sentences of 98 inmates

Obama commutes sentences of 98 inmates
© Victoria Sarno Jordan
President Obama has commuted the sentences of 98 inmates, the White House announced Thursday.
 
It was Obama’s eighth round of commutations this year, bringing him to a total of 872 since taking office — more than the past 11 presidents combined. He's commuted the sentences of 688 inmates this year alone.
 
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Obama has eclipsed Calvin Coolidge, who commuted 773 sentences, but has yet to beat Woodrow Wilson, who holds the record with 1,366 commutations, according to P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist tracking the data.
 
“While there has been much attention paid to the number of commutations issued by the President, at the core, we must remember that there are personal stories behind these numbers,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post. 
 
“These are individuals – many of whom made mistakes at a young age – who have diligently worked to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated.”
 
The batch included 42 inmates serving life sentences. Many will not be released until late 2018 and will have to enroll in residential drug treatment programs. 

The latest round of commutations is part of Obama’s effort to free prisoners serving lengthy sentences handed down during the government's war on drugs.

With less than three months left in office, Obama is speeding up use of his clemency power. But advocates are pressuring him to accelerate the process to ensure more deserving inmates have their sentences shortened.
 
According to the Department of Justice, there were 11,253 petitions pending as of Oct. 6, but not all of those are from inmates that fit the criteria for clemency.
 
Only non-violent, low-level offenders, who have served at least 10 years of their federal sentence, demonstrated good behavior and have no significant criminal history or a history of violence are eligible. 
 
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told NPR in August that she’s confident the Department of Justice will be able to get through all the applicants that were submitted by Aug. 31 before Obama’s leaves office, but that’s just one part of the confirmation process. The president must still act on the recommendations he receives.
 
Some influential Republicans have criticized the program, arguing the administration has expanded relief to dangerous criminals. 
 
 
"An alarming number of offenders whose sentences you have commuted were convicted of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony," Goodlatte wrote in a letter to the president. 
 
He said others were known gang members. "These are clearly not low-level, non-violent drug offenders," the congressman wrote. 

With only 84 days left, criminal-justice reform groups are encouraging the president to keep his current pace to ensure every inmate waiting gets an answer in time.

They say there’s no guarantee the next president will continue on with the clemency initiative Obama started in 2014.
 
“What he’s doing is historic, it’s groundbreaking. … He’s trying to do what he can within his power to restore a sense of fairness at the heart of our criminal justice system and I think that has to be commended,” said Brittany Byrd, an attorney who leads the #Cut50 group’s #ClemencyNOW campaign.
 
- Updated at 4:27 p.m.