President Barack Obama pardoned the criminal sentences of 214 inmates Wednesday, breaking his previous single-day record in an effort to spur criminal justice reform and reverse the damage caused by the war on drugs.
According to a White House news release, Obama has granted a total of 562 commutations to date, more commutations than the last nine presidents combined and more commutations than any individual president in over a century. Wednesday’s announcement marks the most commutations granted in a single day since 1900.
“Today began like any other for 214 federal inmates across the country, but ultimately became a day I am confident they will never forget,” wrote White House counsel to the president Neil Eggleston. “This morning, these individuals received a message from the President: your application for clemency has been granted.”
Almost all of the 214 inmates pardoned were serving “unduly harsh” prison terms for non-violent drug offenses; 67 of those individuals were sentenced to life behind bars. In an effort to make meaningful changes to the U.S. criminal justice system, the White House said in a statement that the president is expected to continue commuting the sentences of federal inmates throughout his remaining months in office.
Obama is also working to make changes to the country’s approach to clemency. Per the White House news release, POTUS directed the Department of Justice to prioritize commutation petitions from those convicted of non-violent drug crimes who were serving longer prison terms than they would be given today if prosecuted for the same offense.
“Today’s historic announcement is yet another step in the administration’s efforts to restore proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences,” DOJ Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said in a statement. “In just the first eight months of 2016, the President has more than doubled the number of commutations granted in all of 2015. But we are not done yet, and we expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the Clemency Initiative.”
Not all of the commuted inmates will process out of federal custody, however. Some will be required to serve more time and/or undergo rehabilitative drug treatment.
For some, the President believes that the applicant’s successful re-entry will be aided with additional drug treatment, and the President has conditioned those commutations on an applicant’s seeking that treatment,” Eggleston wrote. “For others, the President has commuted their sentences to a significantly reduced term so they are consistent with present-day sentencing policies. While these term reductions will require applicants to serve additional time, it will also allow applicants to continue their rehabilitation by completing educational and self-improvement programming and to participate in drug or other counseling services.”
Per the DOJ, those granted clemency by Obama Wednesday include Timothy Adams of Hartsville, South Carolina, who was sentenced to life in prison for “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute” crack cocaine; Jose Carlos Arras Jr. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was jailed for conspiring to import and distribute over 100 kilograms of marijuana; and Marston Edward Blue, who was also sentenced to life behind bars for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin, and felony possession of a firearm.
The grandmother of Demaryius Thomas, a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, was also pardoned. Thomas expressed his gratitude to Obama in a simple tweet yesterday.
Wanna Thank the @POTUS for everything he's done for my family, and a lot more families giving them second chances. Couldn't be a better day!
— Demaryius Thomas (@DemaryiusT) August 3, 2016
This past March, Obama commuted the sentences of 61 federal inmates. Two months later, he granted clemency another 58 individuals who had received mandatory prison terms, mostly nonviolent drug crimes involving crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine, Atlanta Black Star reports.
For Eggleston, the 214 individuals who received commutation Wednesday were an embodiment of “the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances.’ “