WASHINGTON (USA Today) — One is a high school counselor. Two or three work in restaurants. Some can’t find a job. Others have slipped into obscurity.
The Obama Eight, as they call themselves, don’t fit into easy categories, except for this: They were all convicted of drug crimes, and they were among the first to have their sentences commuted by President Obama.
And as Obama prepares to issue even more commutations in the last months of his presidency — part of an aggressive attempt to use his pardon power to shorten long drug sentences — many of them say they feel the weight of criminal justice reform on their shoulders. If any one of them returns to prison, it could taint the clemency initiative and make it harder for other deserving inmates to be released, they say.
They’ve become leading voices for leniency, especially for drug crimes. Last year, many of them came to Washington to lobby members of Congress and meet with Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff, the Justice Department official whose job it is to make clemency recommendations to the president.
After nearly three years without commuting a single sentence, Obama has now issued 89 commutations as president. It’s a record that still ranks as one of the “least merciful” in presidential history, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who blogs about the president’s pardon power.