WASHINGTON – Ahead of his visit to Oklahoma, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people who were convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.
Lyndon B. Johnson commuted the sentences of 80 convicted criminals during one fiscal year. Since then, no president has matched that number in his entire administration, much less in one year.
In his first term, President Obama signed a law that would ease sentencing for new inmates. Also, he started using clemency for nonviolent inmates who have served more than 10 years in prison, have behaved well while incarcerated and would not have received a lengthy sentence under today’s revised rules.
The New York Times says 30,000 federal inmates have applied for clemency so far, which is overwhelming workers who have to screen each application.
In December, Obama commuted the sentences of eight drug offenders. In March, he commuted the sentences of 22 more.
“These men and women were not hard criminals,” the president said. “Their punishment did not fit the crime.
In fact, 14 of those offenders had been sentenced to life.
“I believe at its heart, America is a nation of second chance, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance,” he added.
The president signed letters to those whose sentences were commuted, encouraging them to change their lives for the better.
“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong. So good luck, and Godspeed,” he wrote.
The White House says Monday’s announcement brings the number of commutations issued by Obama to almost 90.
Under the Constitution, the president has the power to grant “pardons for offenses against the United States” or to commute federal sentences. A commutation reduces a sentence but does not eliminate a conviction or restore civil rights lost as a result of the conviction.
This week, President Obama will visit a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. While there, he will meet with law enforcement officers and inmates.
He is expected to conduct an interview for a documentary on America’s criminal justice system.