With less than a month left in office, Pres. Obama is making good on his promise to continue commuting the sentences of federal prisoners until his time as president comes to a close.
The outgoing POTUS on Monday fulfilled a few hundred holiday wishes after granting 78 full pardons and another 153 commutations ahead of Christmas. According to USA Today, that’s double the number of pardons he’s granted over the past seven years.
Though Obama has granted far fewer pardons than his predecessors (he’s only granted 148 compared to George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who pardoned 189 and 396, respectively), the president has actively used his executive power to commute or shorten the sentences of over 1,000 federal inmates locked up on nonviolent drug charges. Just last month, he granted clemency to an additional 79 inmates, some of whom were facing life behind bars.
Obama’s latest round of commutations brought his total up to 1,176 forgiven individuals, which is more than the past 11 presidents combined. Bush commuted just 11 inmates and Clinton commuted only 61, Atlanta Black Star reported. The president also granted clemency to 111 prisoners earlier this year and broke his previous single-day record when he commuted the sentences of 214 inmates in August.
According to USA Today, the POTUS’s latest pardons included a variety of federal crimes including drug dealing, illegal gambling and possession of untaxed alcohol, among other things. Some had hoped that the president would exercise his executive powers on more political cases, but Monday’s pardons didn’t reflect that.
Moreover, criminal justice advocates have pressed Obama to handle the backlog of pending clemency cases at the Office of the Pardon Attorney before he leaves the White House. There are currently 1,937 pardon petitions and 13,042 applications for a commutation of sentence still waiting to be reviewed.
“We need the president to pick up the pace of commutations before he leaves office,” said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance. “He is to be applauded for his actions thus far, but we know that the next occupant of the White House [Donald Trump] is unsympathetic to the cause of mass incarceration and to the plight of those serving unjust sentences in federal prison.”
In a blog post Monday, Neil Eggleston, White House Counsel to the President, explained that the POTUS is expected to continue reviewing clemency applications on a case-by-case basis in order to determine whether the applicant is deserving of a second chance. Pardons would also continue to be reviewed through an official application process.
“The mercy that the President has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients is remarkable, but we must remember that clemency is a tool of last resort and that only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety,” Eggleston wrote.