Obama Commutes 214 Sentences, Many in Pipeline

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President Obama issued 214 more sentence commutations yesterday, bringing his total to 562, Politico reports. The president’s biggest batch of commutations came as Donald Trump touts a “law and order” message. For sentencing reform advocates, it’s a sign that the administration isn’t letting up on the 2014 Justice Department initiative to ease punishments for low-level drug offenders who got long sentences due to mandatory minimums. The new group includes 67 people with life terms. Obama has granted more commutations than his nine most recent predecessors combined, said White House Counsel Neil Eggleston. He expects Obama to grant more sentence reductions before leaving office.

Critics have complained that the pace of commutations has failed to meet expectations and appears arbitrary. As of early June, there were more than 11,000 applications still pending. Based on a screening process by volunteer lawyers called the Clemency Project 2014, advocates believe that at least 1,500 people meet the Justice Department’s basic criteria, which include nonviolence and having served 10 years. “At the current pace, they will fall far short of meeting that threshold,” said Mark Osler, a co-founder of the Clemency Resource Center at NYU Law, who joined a letter calling on Obama to speed things up. “These non-violent offenders have been promised a full review and relief, and they deserve nothing less.” The clemency project said it still has “many more” applications nearing submission. It was responsible for 118 of Wednesday’s clemency recipients. The latest batch of commutations comes at a politically sensitive time, just two weeks after Trump stressed a “law and order” theme at the Republican convention, with warnings of danger in the streets fueled by attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

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