Exactly two months after granting clemency to 42 people in June, President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 214 people who are currently serving time in prison under outdated sentencing laws, bringing his total number of commutations to 562 – more than the last nine presidents combined. It was also the most granted in one day since at least 1900.
“We applaud the President’s leadership in commuting the overly harsh and outdated sentences of these individuals,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “Today’s action 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 nine months ago in October 2015, but it hasn’t yet been brought up for a vote by the full Senate.
“During a divisive political season, Congress should be able to come together around our shared national values to do something that shows how Washington can help improve our country. That something can be real criminal justice reform that saves money, saves communities, and saves lives,” Henderson said.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Obama also noted the need for congressional action.
“These acts of clemency are important steps…and steer our country in a better direction, but they alone won’t fix our criminal justice system,” Obama said. “We need Congress to pass meaningful federal sentencing reform that will allow us to more effectively use taxpayer dollars to protect the public.”
Until that happens, Obama plans to continue to use his executive power to grant clemency through the remainder of his term in office.
“Today’s historic announcement is yet another step in the administration’s efforts to restore proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences. In just the first eight months of 2016, the President has more than doubled the number of commutations granted in all of 2015, said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, in a statement on Wednesday. “But we are not done yet, and we expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the Clemency Initiative.”
Learn more about the 214 clemency recipients here.