Obama continues to commute inmates. /WI file photo by Shevry Lassiter
Obama continues to commute inmates. /WI file photo by Shevry Lassiter

Reshaping the approach to clemency, President Obama granted 79 commutations to nonviolent drug offenders on Nov. 22, raising the total number of commutations by the president during his term to more than 1,000.

During a White House conference call, President Obama’s administrative team noted the historic precedent set by President Obama, who has commuted more prisoners’ sentences than the 11 previous presidents combined.

Obama, who has called for an overhaul of federal sentencing laws, posted a message on Facebook explaining the latest round of commutations.

“It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or sometimes life, in prison,” he wrote. “That’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not serving the public safety. Instead, it burdens our already overcrowded prisons.

“At the heart of America is the idea that we’re all imperfect,” Obama wrote. “We all make mistakes. We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. And we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility for their mistakes are able to earn a second chance to contribute to our communities and our country.”

White House officials also explained that out of the 1,000 federal prison inmates whose sentences were shortened, 342 of them were serving life sentences and 839 of those inmates were released this year.

The president’s efforts align with the Clemency Initiative launched in 2014 by his administration to address the adverse effects of the nation’s oft-egregious drug crime laws.

Though there is no target number of commutations to grant, White House counsel Neil Eggleston cited the president’s commitment to continue to push clemency to the end of his term.

“We have two months left in this administration,” Eggleston said. “I think you can anticipate that we will keep going until the end.”

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said Tuesday that the Department of Justice is expected to send at least 6,300 petitions to the White House.

“On Aug. 31, we made a commitment that we would review and make recommendations on all the pending drug petitions that we had at the Department of Justice in sufficient time for the president to be able to make a determination,” she said. “We are on track to be able to make those recommendations to the White House so that the president can make an informed decision.”

Norman Brown, one of the inmates whose sentences were commuted, said the news was initially tough to process.

“The day that I received clemency was so overwhelming, that I had to pinch myself to see if what I heard I was real,” he said. “I sat on the phone with my attorney and was speechless for about three minutes. I went back to my room and sat on the side of my bed to regroup my emotions and prepare to call my sister Kris and my daughter.

“What it means to get a second to me, means that I now have a chance to live my life, learning from my past mistakes and having the ability to share with others where I went wrong,” Brown said. “The things that I took for granted I now appreciate them with much joy.”

Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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