President Obama did not seriously focus on pardons and commutations until 2014, two years into his second term. Yesterday, his last full day in office, Obama announced 330 more commutations, for nonviolent drug offenders, bringing his clemency total to 1,715, reports the Washington Post. He has granted commutations to more people than the past 12 presidents combined, including 568 inmates with life sentences. He has granted 212 pardons. The last clemencies were the most Obama granted in a day and the most granted on one day in U.S. history. “By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. “This undertaking was as enormous as it was unprecedented.”
A typical reaction came from Brittany Byrd, a Texas lawyer, who represented seven inmates who have received clemency from Obama over the past two years. “I was overjoyed when I received the call from Pardon Attorney Robert Zauzmer telling me the president had granted clemency to my client, Trenton Copeland, who was being buried alive under an unduly harsh sentence of life without parole for a nonviolent drug offense. The president saved Trenton’s life today.” ther activists expressed disappointment that Obama had not granted an early release to more inmates. “It’s fantastic that the president is using his last days in office to continue to grant clemency to deserving prisoners,” said Julie Stewart f Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which has been fighting for clemency for drug offenders sentenced under the tough drug laws of the 1980s and 1990s. “But my heart aches for those who will not make the cut.” The Obama administration had denied 14,485 clemency petitions and 1,629 pardons as of Jan. 3.
For more on “America’s Lifers,” see this earlier coverage in The Crime Report.