President Obama today commuted the prison sentences of 95 drug offenders, the Washington Post reports. With a year to go in the Obama presidency, the clemency numbers are falling short of the administration’s rhetoric, NPR reports. Volunteers in an effort called Clemency Project 2014 are sifting through 34,000 applications from federal inmates. Half of them turned out to be ineligible under White House criteria, mostly because they hadn’t served at least 10 years behind bars or because they had a violent history. Lawyers had trouble getting access to documents that reveal an applicant’s criminal past.
Federal courts barred public defenders from working on the clemency effort, leaving the group to rely on volunteers from the worlds of real estate or tax law who may never have touched a criminal case. So far, the volunteers have sent 263 petitions to the government. From there, the applications undergo several more layers of review inside the Justice Department. DOJ’s Office of Pardon Attorney already had a backlog of several thousand cases before the White House made a new push for clemency. Law Prof. Rachel Barkow of New York University estimates 1,600 inmates are eligible for clemency. The White House has granted petitions from four inmates recommended by the volunteer group and fewer than 200 others.