The Justice Department official overseeing President Obama’s drive to commute the sentences of drug offenders serving long prison terms is resigning, Politico reports. Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff took the job in April 2014. Under Leff’s tenure, the pace of commutations has picked up significantly. A backlog of clemency applications also has mushroomed under an initiative to encourage commutation applications from federal drug prisoners who had served more than ten years behind bars and met other criteria. As of the end of December, 9,115 commutation applications were pending, up from 2,785 in September 2014.
Leff suggested that the administration’s effort to fulfill Obama’s clemency offer needs to be ramped up significantly. “I have known President Obama for more than 20 years, and I believe his commitment to reinvigorating the clemency process … can change the lives of a great many deserving people. It is essential that this groundbreaking effort move ahead expeditiously and expand,” Leff said. Last week, the Justice Department announced plans to increase the office’s staffing dramatically by hiring 16 attorneys. DOJ said that, “A new Pardon Attorney will be named in the near future, and we expect the work of the Pardon Attorney's office to continue apace as we identify and vet potential candidates for the president's clemency priorities.” Politico has reported that Obama’s clemency drive languished in its first year due to a flood of applications, inadequate resources, reliance on outside lawyers to prepare prisoners’ paperwork, and bureaucratic hurdles that weren’t anticipated.