On Wednesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 inmates in what is now the largest single-day release since 1900. Of those 214 inmates, 67 were serving life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said, “The individual nature of the clemency process underscores both its incredible power to change a person’s life, but also its inherent shortcoming as a tool for broader sentencing reform.”
Since the President has taken office he has commuted the sentences of 562 inmates, which as the White House points out, is more than the nine previous presidents combined. Many of these inmates are victims of over-sentencing as a byproduct of the War on Drugs.
Mandatory minimums, sentence enhancements, and a tough on crime attitude have increasingly incarcerated people for years for victimless crimes that could have been addressed through diversion, treatment, and rehabilitation programs.
One of the President’s previous commutations was Sharanda Jones from Terrell, Texas. Jones was a first-time non-violent drug offender sentenced in 1999 to life in prison. She was found guilty on trafficking charges for facilitating a drug purchase. Neither the seller nor buyer received as severe sentences as Jones. Her sentence was finally commuted last year after serving sixteen years.
Jones is one of 197 inmates sentenced to life that the president has commuted during his tenure.
Many of these commutations come because of a clemency initiative kicked off in 2014. After a lull in commutations, justice reform activists pushed the president to ramp up efforts. He then tasked the Department of Justice with prioritizing nonviolent offenders’ clemency requests and has been consistently commuting sentences since.
It’s important to note, the president didn’t grant them a jail pass; rather he adjusted sentences to rightfully fit the crimes committed. Not all of those granted clemency will be released immediately. Many still have to serve reduced time or participate in a rehabilitation program before they are released.