Obama Commutes 209 Sentences, Pardons 64 In Final Week of Presidency

By Seth Ferranti 01/18/17

The outgoing 44th president has granted more commutations than any president in American history.

President Barack Obama

President Obama has now shortened the sentences of more federal prisoners than any other president in U.S. history.

During his final week in office, on January 17, the outgoing president granted 209 commutations and 64 pardons, giving him a total of 1,385 commutation grants and 212 pardons—the most in presidential history.

During his two-term presidency, Obama commuted the terms of 504 inmates serving life sentences, many of whom were convicted at the height of the War on Drugs. The draconian sentencing guidelines Congress enacted were a result of the tough-on-crime political hysteria which gripped the late 1980s and 1990s. The result has been the over-incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, the majority of whom are African American and Hispanic.

“While the mercy the President has shown his 1,597 clemency recipients is remarkable, we must remember that clemency is an extraordinary remedy, granted only after the President has concluded that a particular individual has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston stated in a press release. “Only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.”

Though critics point to the lack of pardons and restoration of civil rights to returning citizens who served their time like voting, bearing arms and obtaining professional licenses, Obama has done what he can to right the wrongs of the drug war. He even granted commutations to high-profile political prisoners like Chelsea Manning and Oscar López Rivera.

The Obama administration has continued to maintain that each prisoner's application for clemency is reviewed individually and based on the merit of the individual's case alone. The administration has strived to maintain the overall theme of rehabilitation and second chances in deciding which offenders' applications are accepted for clemency. 

“The power to grant pardons and commutations embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws,” said President Obama in a letter to 61 individuals who received clemency in a previous round of commutations last June.

Despite the criticisms that he hasn’t done enough, President Obama might go down as the president who stopped the drug war. 

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.