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Obama hits 1,000-mark for commutations granted

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Barack Obama made remarks during his news conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Lima, Peru on Sunday.

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama surpassed the 1,000 mark for commutations granted during his presidency today after shortening sentences for 79 people.

Obama has been granting commutations at rapid-fire pace in his final months in office. All told, he’s commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined, the White House said.

Most of those who have received clemency are nonviolent drug offenders, though many were also convicted of firearms violations related to drug crimes. A significant portion had been serving life sentences.

“It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or sometimes life, in prison,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post. “That’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not serving the public safety.”

Yet Obama’s call for clemency has run into opposition from some corners, including from President-elect Donald Trump. Though Obama is expected to grant more commutations in his final weeks, officials acknowledged a large number of applications will be pending when Obama leaves office.

That means it will be up to Trump’s administration to decide whether to grant or reject them, said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

Trump, during the campaign, warned Americans that their safety could be at risk because of Obama’s move to set prisoners free ahead of schedule. That critique fits into Trump’s broader call for restoring “law and order” in the U.S. and cracking down on crime.

“Some of these people are bad dudes,” Trump said in October after another batch of Obama commutations. He said those individuals were out “walking the streets,” and added, “Sleep tight, folks.”

Not all of those receiving commutations will be set free right away. Some will see their sentences end in 2017 or 2018 — long after Obama leaves office — and in some cases on the condition they participate in drug treatment programs.

Shauna Barry-Scott of Ohio said her experience of having her sentence shortened in 2015 was surreal. She described her initial reaction as “shock, overwhelming joy, fear of the unknown.”

“I had to pinch myself,” said Norman Brown, a Maryland man whose life sentence for cocaine distribution Obama commuted last year. He said after lawyers informed him of the decision, he sat speechless for three minutes as he absorbed what it would mean to have a second chance.

Obama’s bid to lessen the burden on nonviolent offenders reflects his long-stated view that decades of onerous sentencing requirements put tens of thousands behind bars for far too long. He has used the aggressive pace of his commutations to increase pressure on Congress to pass a broader fix while using his executive powers to address individual cases where possible.

Though both parties in Congress have called for a criminal justice overhaul, momentum has petered out, creating dim prospects for a legislative breakthrough in the near future.

Obama has been calling for years for phasing out strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries. With his support, the Justice Department in recent years directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.

The Obama administration has also expanded criteria for inmates applying for clemency, prioritizing nonviolent offenders who have behaved well in prison, aren’t closely tied to gangs and would have received shorter sentences if they had been convicted a few years later.

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  • good move to clear the non-violent offenders out and make room for violent crime convicts.

    still waiting for the last two pardons to be issued before he leaves office. going to go down to the wire.

    • IRT Den, it impacts the entire Federal Judicial system, the legislatures who passed the laws, and the Governors who signed the legislation into law. Hawaii born President is the anti-law President. Truly a my way, or the highway President.

  • A thousand empty cots must surely dismay the corporate private-prison complex, and they wield a powerful lobby. Just imagine private prisons going bankrupt — just imagine the penal/rehabilitative process being returned to the State where it belongs! Weeping and gnashing of fangs on both Wall and K Streets.

  • WORST potus in American history who has a track record which shows he has accomplished absolutely NOTHING POSITIVE FOR AMERICANS in 8 years.
    Still wonder how a person could vote for a proven unqualified divisive community organizer…not once but TWICE even!

  • Anything wrong headed and questionable, Obama will lead and become the record holder. Just because a person is in jail for a drug dealing case does not mean that they are
    non violent and deserve a sentence commutation. Most if not all will have a lengthy criminal record which makes them very likely to get back to business once they are out.
    Wonder what the racial breakdown of those receiving these commutations are??

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