As Sentencing Reform Stalls in Congress, President Obama Commutes 61 Sentences

Categories: Criminal Justice, News

President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 61 people who are currently serving time in prison under outdated sentencing laws, bringing his total number of commutations to 248 – more than the last six presidents combined.

“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,” Obama said in a letter to the 61 individuals.

In December 2015, Obama commuted the sentences of 95 individuals and granted pardons to two, marking the highest number of commutations he had granted at one time and more than doubling his total since taking office.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances,” Obama said in a letter to those 95 individuals. “I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better.”

In July 2015, Obama granted 46 commutations to non-violent drug offenders, which Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, at the time said “sends an unmistakable message to the nation that we desperately need reforms to our inhumane, discriminatory, and costly criminal justice system.”

While Obama’s volume of commutations has made history, Congress could go farther by passing sentencing reform legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2123 – the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act – more than five months ago in October 2015, but it hasn’t yet been brought up for a vote by the full Senate.

Click here to learn more about the 61 individuals whose sentences were just commuted.