On Wednesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates, the largest single-day total in more than a century. Almost all of the prisoners, 64 of which were serving life sentences, were incarcerated for non-violent drug-related offenses. This brings President Obama’s total commutations up to 562, including 197 life sentences. According to the White House, this is more than the past nine presidents combined.
In a post on the White House blog, Neil Eggleston wrote, “All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances.'” Eggleston has served as White House Council to President Obama since June 2014. Discussing the historic number of commuted sentences, Eggleston wrote, “our work is far from finished. I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.”
Eggleston detailed the commuting process, stating that each case is examined individually so that relief can be tailored accordingly. Because of this, Eggleston said, “The individual nature of the clemency process underscores both its incredible power to change a person’s life, but also its inherent shortcoming as a tool for broader sentencing reform.”
Noting that most presidents use their power to commute sentences and pardon prisoners at the end of their terms, White House lawyers expect President Obama to keep going. “We are not done yet,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “We expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative.”