WASHINGTON (UPI) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday granted more requests for clemency for U.S. prisoners than any presidential administration has done in more than a century, the White House said.
Obama commuted the sentences of 214 prisoners — the most in a single day, the White House said, since at least 1900. The number also makes Obama the most clemency-friendly president since Calvin Coolidge.
Wednesday’s orders are part of a 2014 Justice Department initiative to free thousands of American prisoners who are serving long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, due to mandatory minimum guidelines in federal law. The measure seeks to shorten prison terms for offenders who would be given lighter sentences for the same crimes under today’s law.
Obama’s action gives new life to 67 prisoners who had been serving life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
For example, Maryland inmate Marston Edward Blue was given a life term in 2002 after a conviction on charges of conspiracy with intent to distribute, aiding and abetting and unlawful possession of a firearm. Now his sentence will expire on Dec. 1.
“Too many men and women end up in a criminal justice system that serves up excessive punishments, especially for nonviolent drug offenses,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday.
“This is a country that believes in second chances.”
In his post, Obama referred to a letter he received from a former Florida inmate named Sherman Chester, thanking him for giving him that second chance in December, when the president commuted and pardoned dozens of sentences.
“Today, I’m commuting the sentences of an additional 214 men and women who are just as deserving [as Chester] of a second chance,” Obama wrote. “Altogether, I’ve commuted more sentences than the past nine presidents combined, and I am not done yet.”
Those past nine presidents include George W. Bush (11 commuted sentences), Bill Clinton (61), George H.W. Bush (3), Ronald Reagan (13), Jimmy Carter (29), Gerald Ford (22), Richard Nixon (60), Lyndon Johnson (226) and John F. Kennedy (100).
Coolidge commuted nearly 800 sentences between 1923 and 1929. To date, Obama has commuted 562 terms — with nearly six months to go in office.
“The more we understand the human stories behind this problem, the sooner we can start making real changes that keep our streets safe, break the cycle of incarceration in this country and save taxpayers like you money,” Obama said.
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