Legacy of Obama’s clemency program in doubt after term expires

President Obama granted clemency to 214 federal prisoners on Wednesday, setting a single-day record for White House commutations by shortening the sentences of mostly non-violent drug offenders.

Of the 214, 67 were serving life sentences, some of which were also imprisoned for firearm violations in relation to other relevant drug charges.

“All of the individuals receiving commutations today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,'” White House counselor Neil Eggleston wrote.

Eggleston also implored Congress to pass legislation reforming federal criminal sentencing guidelines, which would “bring about lasting change to the federal system.”

To-date, President Obama has granted relief to 562 federal inmates, 200 of which were serving life sentences, more than the previous nine presidents combined.

commutations_chart_0

courtesy whitehouse.gov

A majority of the clemency applications approved Wednesday were approved for release Dec. 1.  One such applicant was Baltimore, MD, native James Wright, who was originally sentenced in 2006 to 20 years for possession of crack cocaine and an intent to distribute the drug.

According to the Clemency Resource Center, over 11,000 clemency petitions are currently in queue at the Justice Department, 1,500 of which meet the threshold for approval as established by President Obama.

Many believe justice is finally being served to those who received lengthy sentences for victim-less crimes, but the White House commutation program will expire when Obama leaves the Oval Office in late-January 2017, putting its legacy in doubt.

While Hillary Clinton has paid lip service to reforming the criminal justice system, as president, her husband passed the 1994 Crime Bill, which invoked harsher sentences on repeat offenders, aided law enforcement programs to put 100,000 more police officers on the street and funded prisons across the country with an additional $9.7 billion.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has touted himself as the “law and order candidate,” and has vowed to protect police officers against violent criminals, arguing that, “It’s never been so dangerous to be a policeman or woman.”

 

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