President Obama Continues Clemency Push, Commutes Hundreds of Sentences

Days before he leaves office, President Obama on Tuesday granted 209 commutations and 64 pardons, bringing his total number of clemency recipients to 1,597 – 1,385 commutations and 212 pardons. His volume of commutations is greater than the previous 12 presidents combined.

“These 273 individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward,” said Neil Eggleston, counsel to the President. “Today, 273 individuals – like President Obama’s 1,324 clemency recipients before them – learned that our President has found them deserving of a second chance.”

More than half of Tuesday’s commutation recipients were serving life sentences.

The Leadership Conference has supported Obama’s leadership in commuting overly harsh and outdated sentences, praising his actions in the past as sending “an unmistakable message to the nation that we desperately need reforms to our inhumane, discriminatory, and costly criminal justice system.”

But as Obama has noted all along, his actions aren’t enough. Congress could go father by passing sentencing reform legislation, but bills stalled in both chambers last year. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in October 2015, but it languished on the Senate floor for more than a year before expiring. In the House, the Sentencing Reform Act similarly never came up for a vote on the floor.

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Justice, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R. Ala., is a major reason why the Senate bill failed. “In 2016, he personally blocked the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act,” says a recent Brennan Center for Justice report. “As Attorney General, Sen. Sessions could stall current congressional efforts to pass this legislation to recalibrate federal sentencing laws.”

Learn more about Tuesday’s clemency recipients here. And learn about civil rights groups’ additional concerns about Sessions here.