President Barack Obama has recently commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners before his historic visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma. Most of the prisoners whose sentences he commuted are drug offenders. In a video posted on Facebook, Obama maintained that the punishment of the commuted prisoners was overloaded and overwhelming. According to Obama, because these prisoners are not “hardened criminals,” “their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”
During his remarks regarding the commuted sentences, Obama said, “I believe at its heart, America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.” These 46 commutations in a single day is a record held since President Lyndon B. Johnson. Obama’s 89 commutations since taking office in 2009 is a higher total than presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush’s commutations combined. In his presidency, Obama has granted 64 pardons. However, a commutation doesn’t rub out a criminal conviction like a presidential pardon; it only reduces a sentence.
The Obama administration declared last year that nonviolent drug offenders would be granted clemency. 17 percent of the federal prison population applied for early release after this declaration. Last December, President Obama commuted 8 drug offenders, which disappointed the large number of applicants who applied for commutation given the administration's pronouncement that it wants to grant more clemencies. From 2009 to November of last year, Obama commuted the sentences of 13 prisoners. That number rose to 21 in December with the addition of eight new commutations. The number of commutations then was still relatively small, but the initiative was taken. The Justice Department’s new policy was practically set to run. In March, President Obama declared 22 new commutations to raise his granted commutations to 43.
With this new declaration of 46 commutations, Barack Obama is apparently trying to prove his earnestness to follow the Justice Department’s revised principle. According to Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, “The president’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities.” She promised to recommend to the President appropriate candidates for clemency.