Obama Commutes 58 Drug-Offender Sentences

     (CN) — President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 58 nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the total number of sentences commuted under his administration to over 300.
     Most of the inmates will be released Sept. 2 of this year, while some others will have to wait until early 2017 or May 5, 2018.
     The White House says Obama has now commuted 306 total individual sentences, which it says is more than the past six presidents combined.
     A graphic on the White House press office website showed that the next closest is Bill Clinton with 61 commuted sentences, while George W. Bush issued 11 commutations.
     Obama said in a statement Thursday that he has “been working to bring about a more effective approach to our criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to drug crimes.”
     “While I will continue to review clemency applications, only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing. That is why I am encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in Congress to reform federal sentencing laws, particularly on overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses,” Obama said. “Because it just doesn’t make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison. An excessive punishment like that doesn’t fit the crime. It’s not serving taxpayers, and it’s not making us safer.”
     The prisoners granted clemency Thursday were jailed for charges such as possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. Eighteen of them were facing life in prison. None appeared to have any firearm-related convictions.
     “As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And it’s something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office.”
     Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a statement that the 58 freed inmates “have been granted a second chance to lead productive and law-abiding lives.”
     “Our clemency work is continuing as part of our broader efforts to effectuate criminal justice reform and ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing,” Yates said. “That includes supporting the bipartisan efforts in Congress to pass criminal justice reform legislation, working with the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and continuing the department’s successful Smart on Crime initiative.”
     While Obama has commuted more sentences than any recent president, he has only pardoned 70 people – the fewest since President James Garfield in the 1880s, according to reports.
     A pardon is an executive order granting clemency after a sentence has been completed, which typically restores an offender’s civil rights. A commutation is the mitigation of a sentence without vacating the underlying conviction.

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