Obama Grants 79 More Commutations For Non-Violent Offenders

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Obama Grants 79 More Commutations For Non-Violent Offenders

By Victoria Kim 11/28/16

Obama has now commuted over 1,000 federal inmates' sentences. 

Obama Grants 79 More Commutations For Non-Violent Offenders

Last Tuesday (Nov. 22), President Obama commuted the sentences of 79 more federal inmates. The president has now granted clemency to a total of 1,023 federal inmates—about a third of whom were serving life sentences. 

People like Tim Tyler—who had served 25 years of his life sentence for selling LSD when Obama commuted his sentence in August—have either already been set free or are eligible for early release.

In 2014, the Justice Department announced the initiative to fast-track the clemency process. To qualify for a shortened sentence, applicants must have no history of violence and no significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations. As a result, the majority of those who have so far received clemency have been non-violent drug offenders like Tyler.

The Obama administration initially received more than 30,000 requests for clemency. By the end of August, with the help of an army of volunteer lawyers, that number was pared down to 6,000 pending applications.

With many more applications still to go, the administration has picked up the pace. This is the second time this month the president has granted commutations. Since President-elect Trump is not expected to continue with the clemency initiative, which expires at the end of Obama’s term in January, time is running out for thousands of inmates. 

“At the risk of sounding ungrateful, we say, ‘Thanks, but please hurry,’” said Kevin Ring, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “We know there are thousands more who received outdated and excessive mandatory sentences and we think they all deserve to have their petitions considered before the president leaves office.” 

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told reporters that the Justice Department will continue with the clemency process until the end of Obama’s presidency. “There are 1,000 lives behind that number,” said Yates, referring to the 1,023 non-violent offenders granted clemency under Obama. 

“One thousand people who have been sentenced under unnecessarily harsh and outdated sentencing laws that sent many of them to prison for 20, 40 years, sometimes even life, for nonviolent drug offenses.”

The United States has the world's largest prison population, with more than 2.2 million adults behind bars. In 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that over 3,000 Americans are serving life sentences for non-violent offenses including drug possession and shoplifting.

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