Before pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey on Wednesday, President Barack Obama set free 79 more inmates setting a clemency milestone of more than 1,000 pardons. Experts say the Democratic president commuted the sentence of more people than the last 11 presidents combined.
Of the 1,023 inmates whom Obama pardoned, 342 had had a life sentence for their drug-related crimes. Brittany Byrd, a Texas attorney who helped many of these convicts write a petition for pardon, praised the decision. Byrd noted 342 men and women were about to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. “The president literally saved their lives,” Byrd added.
On Tuesday, the president released 79 drug offenders from prison, of whom 18 had a life sentence. The move is in line with a pledge he made in 2014 to boost his clemency power by the end of his term. In 2016, the Justice Department encouraged inmates convicted for drug-related but nonviolent crimes to apply for clemency.
The DOJ even put them in contact with a pro-bono group of lawyers for legal assistance with petitions. Obama thinks that drug convictions are too harsh in some states.
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston commented on the new grant. He said no other president in the modern era used his clemency power as Obama did. The Democrat wants to send a message to the world that America is a “nation of second chances.”
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates say that there are 6,300 more drug petitions pending. Yates and her team of attorneys are poised to get them to the president’s office before Jan. 20, 2017.
Experts do not know how many pardons the current president is willing to grant. Eggleston is confident there would be more before Obama leaves office. The drug offenders who got a pardon have spent at least 10 years in prison.
Obama Freed 839 Inmates in 2016 Alone
So far, Obama pardoned 839 people this year alone, but clemency advocates think he should speed up the pace before his time runs out. It is unclear whether Trump’s administration would be as generous to convicted criminals as Obama’s.
Trump has named Sen. Jeff Sessions for the position of attorney general in his administration. Sessions once said Obama’s clemency initiatives are “reckless” and abusive. Sessions underscored that some of the pardoned inmates served times on firearms counts as well.
The president-elect himself criticized Obama’s enthusiasm for commutations. He noted many of convicts were “bad dudes.”
“And these are people who are out, they’re walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks,”
Trump also said.
In the meantime, Yates said the DOJ will continue to push for more commutations. Eggleston added Obama is determined to give people a second chance and enable them to rejoin families and society. Eggleston insisted the president ‘personally” committed to this.
Nevertheless, not all pardoned inmates will be “walking the streets.” In some cases, Obama agreed to shorten their sentence. So, many of them will spend years in prison before they can get out.
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