President Obama granted 98 more commutations to federal inmates yesterday, bringing the total for this year to 688 — the most commutations ever granted by a president in a single year, reports USA Today. He has shortened the sentences of 872 inmates, more than any president since Woodrow Wilson. The actions were part of Obama’s effort to rectify what he sees as unduly harsh sentences imposed during the “war on drugs.” Through a clemency initiative announced in 2014, he has re-sentenced hundreds of non-violent drug dealers to the sentences they would have received under today’s more lenient sentencing guidelines.
Unlike a full pardon, which represents a full legal forgiveness for a crime, a commutation only shortens the sentence while leaving other consequences intact, like court-ordered supervision and restrictions on firearms ownership. Obama has been denying a record number of commutations at the same time. On Oct. 6, the White House announced that Obama granted 102 commutations. It wasn’t until a week later that the Justice Department updated clemency statistics to disclose that he denied 2,917 commutation petitions on Sept. 30. Some advocates for inmates say there’s not enough transparency about why some get clemency while others wait. “We want answers for the families who are still waiting for their clemency,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan of the pro-clemency group Cut 50. “There needs to be more communication about why people are being denied.” As of Oct. 7, Obama has granted just 5.5 percent of commutation applications, more than many of his predecessors.