The 95 commutations of drug sentences that President Obama signed on Friday were more than double the number he granted this summer, reports the Washington Post. It was the third time this year that the president has used his unique clemency power to release federal drug offenders, whose harsh sentences have contributed to the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Obama has argued that federal sentencing laws have subjected too many nonviolent inmates to decades behind bars, disproportionately hurting minority communities. The president also issued two pardons.
The 95 were only a tiny fraction of more than 33,000 federal inmates who applied for clemency. To qualify, prisoners must have served at least 10 years of their sentence, have no significant criminal history and no connection to gangs, cartels or organized crime. They must have demonstrated good conduct in prison. They also must be inmates who probably would have received a “substantially lower sentence” if convicted of the same offense today. More than 18,000 applicants didn’t meet the criteria, and 9,000 cases are pending at the Justice Department or the White House.