A massive influx of applications from prisoners and a complicated review process have slowed the Obama administration initiative to grant clemency to nonviolent offenders, shifting the burden to an army of pro bono lawyers and specialists willing to help, reports the Washington Post. Just over a year after initiative started, President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight prisoners. In the meantime, 35,000 inmates, 16 percent of the federal prison population, have applied to have their sentences shortened. The Justice Department has sought to deal with the deluge by encouraging outside lawyers to help identify candidates for earlier release and to represent them. Prisoner applications are being reviewed by more than 1,000 attorneys at 323 law firms and organizations.
“We have created what very well may be the largest, most ambitious pro-bono effort in the history of the legal profession,” said Norman Reimer of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, one of the four groups that make up Clemency Project 2014. Justice officials say the clemency initiative is part of their effort to address drug sentences they believe were too harsh. Some inmate advocates view the process as cumbersome, with cases going from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to the Deputy Attorney General to the White House Counsel’s office and then to the President.