WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama granted commutations to another 79 federal drug offenders Tuesday, pushing the number of inmates he has granted clemency to past 1,000.
Obama’s historic number of commutations was announced as administration officials are moving quickly to rule on all the pending clemency applications from inmates before the end of the president’s term. The Trump administration is not expected to keep in place Obama’s initiative to provide relief to non-violent drug offenders.
Barack Obama, marijuana and commuted prison sentences
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“The President’s gracious act of mercy today with his latest round of commutations is encouraging,” said Brittany Byrd, a Texas attorney who has represented several inmates who have received clemency since Obama’s initiative began in 2014. “He is taking historic steps under his groundbreaking clemency initiative to show the power of mercy and belief in redemption. Three hundred and forty two men and women were set to die in prison. The President literally saved their lives.”
The White House and the Justice Department were criticized by sentencing reform advocates earlier this year for moving too slowly in granting commutations to inmates serving harsh sentences who met the criteria for clemency. The administration has greatly picked up the pace, but advocates still want them to move faster before time runs out.
“At the risk of sounding ungrateful, we say, “thanks, but please hurry,” said Kevin Ring, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “We know there are thousands more who received outdated and excessive mandatory sentences and we think they all deserve to have their petitions considered before the president leaves office. Petitioners are starting to get anxious because they know the president is, in prison parlance, a short-timer.”
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the Justice Dept will continue to recommend more commutations through the end of the Obama administration.
Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years. Follow her on Twitter @sarihorwitz