Today, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 209 people incarcerated in federal prison, and handed out 64 pardons. This brings the number of prisoners who have been granted clemency under President Obama to 1,597.
The commutations and pardons represent the Obama Administration’s push to overhaul the criminal justice system, making it fairer while saving the government money. President Obama has been pushed to do more to release those serving time in prison under harsh drug laws that have imprisoned an enormous amount of individuals. Just last week, President Obama wrote an article in the Harvard Law Review outlining his Administration’s work on criminal justice reform. These could possibly be his last round of commutations.
“We are grateful for the President’s actions, but this new Congress must now step up to the plate on sentencing reform,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are still thousands of people in prison serving unfair sentences for drug offenses, and we need to fix that.”
Advocates fear that Donald Trump will take a tougher approach to criminal justice, but many were heartened when House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) recently committed to moving sentencing reform in this Congress.
“There are thousands of people in prison who should also be granted their freedom by President Obama,” said Tony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. Papa, who recently received a pardon from the state of New York, just released his new book, This Side of Freedom: Life after Clemency, which highlights the roadblocks he faced after he was released. “I am praying that Obama grants every single one of them clemency before he leaves office so they can have second chances in their lives.”