Obama Grants Clemency to 231 Prisoners; Most Ever in a Single Day
President Barack Obama furthered his quest to give nonviolent prisoners second chances on Monday, when he granted a total of 231 convicts clemency, the largest single act of clemency by a president in the nation’s history. Obama pardoned 78 prisoners, and commuted the sentences of 153 others, bringing his total acts of clemency to 1,324, more than the last 11 presidents combined, and 50 times more than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Many of the prisoners were convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes, and many of them were sentenced under drug laws from decades ago, which are harsher than those in place today. For example, one prisoner who Obama pardoned, Robert Spencer Baines, was convicted in Maine for “conspiracy to possess, possession with intent to distribute over 1,000 pounds of marijuana” in 1986. A pardon erases any legal liabilities from a previous conviction, including restoring a felon’s right to vote, and hold state or local office.
“While each clemency recipient’s story is unique, the common thread of rehabilitation underlies all of them,” White House Council Neil Eggleston wrote in a statement released Monday, adding that all recipients “demonstrated that they are ready to make use — or have already made use — of a second chance.”
More than 30,000 prisoners have applied for the chance to have their cases reviewed by the president. The review process is time consuming and goes through a number of filters. Before a case lands on Obama’s desk, the Clemency Project, an initiative of several advocacy groups, sifts through the applications. Government lawyers and private law firms review the individual cases as well, passing on violent offenders or cases that otherwise did not meet the Justice Department’s standards.
Some have called on Obama to take his clemency powers a step further, and issue a blanket pardon of young undocumented immigrants, and of nonviolent drug offenders. That will not happen, according to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who said last week: “The issue of pardoning someone is an individual decision that’s made on a case-by-case basis, and so there’s no legal framework or regulatory framework that allows for a pardon of a group en masse.”
Almost exactly a year ago, Obama commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners. “If we can show at the federal level that we can be smart on crime, more cost effective, more just, more proportionate, then we can set a trend for other states to follow as well,” he said at the time. It’s unclear if similar actions will be taken by President-elect Donald Trump, who has indicated he will be tough on crime. But Eggleston said Obama plans on reviewing cases until the day he leaves office.