Obama commutes 46 prison sentences

President Obama used his executive power on Monday to commute the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. Out of the offenders, 14 were serving life sentences, and most were convicted of crimes involving cocaine.

“I believe, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances,” Obama said in a video posted to the White House’s Facebook page. “I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”

Obama has been a critic of the mandatory minimums that were passed in the 1980s. Since the drug sentencing laws were put in place, the prison population surged from 24,000 to over 214,000 people.

“Lawmakers in Congress are debating a bipartisan effort to change sentencing laws.

“We made a terrible mistake 30 years ago when we created the laws that sent these men and women away for so long,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “What the president did for them today is its own form of justice, leavened with mercy.”

The tally of Obama’s commutations is now almost 90. Out of the U.S. presidents, only Lyndon B. Johnson has commuted more prison sentences.

It is important to note commutations are not the same as presidential pardons. The 46 drug offenders whose sentences Obama commuted will serve shorter prison times, albeit significantly reduced.

Next week Obama will continue his push for criminal justice reform with a trip to El Reno prison in Oklahoma. This will make him the first president to ever visit a federal prison.

[Associated Press] [The Hill] [CNN] [Washington Post] [Image via video released by White House]