US President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal prisoners Wednesday, the largest single-day grant of commutations in the nation’s history. He has 562 total commutations during his presidency — most of which have come in the past year . Obama has now used his constitutional clemency power to shorten the sentences of more federal inmates than 9 past presidents combined.
The early release of the 214 prisoners, mostly low-level drug offenders and non violent offenders, is part of Obama’s effort to correct what he views as unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences to those inmates. Some date back decades, including 71-year-old Richard L. Reser of Sedgwick, Kan., who was given a 40-year sentence for dealing methamphatamine and firearm possession in 1989. He’ll be released Dec. 1.
Obama said in a Facebook post:
“The more we understand the human stories behind this problem, the sooner we can start making real changes that keep our streets safe, break the cycle of incarceration in this country, and save taxpayers like you money,”
The president’s clemency power usually takes one of two forms: Pardons, which give offenders a full legal forgiveness for their crimes, and commutations, which shorten prison sentences but often leave other conditions intact. Many of those granted commutations Wednesday will remain under court supervision even after release.
He shared a letter he received from a prisoner he pardoned and wrote on FB:
A few months ago, I received this letter from a Floridian named Sherman Chester. When Sherman was a young man, he wrote, he made some bad choices, got in over his head, and ended up with a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent drug charge. At Sherman’s sentencing, even the judge couldn’t believe he was bound by law to hand down a punishment that didn’t fit the crime.
We know that Sherman…‘s story is all too common in this country — a country that imprisons its citizens at a rate far higher than any other. Too many men and women end up in a criminal justice system that serves up excessive punishments, especially for nonviolent drug offenses.
But this is a country that believes in second chances. So we’ve got to make sure that our criminal justice system works for everyone. We’ve got to make sure that it keeps our streets safe while also making sure that an entire class of people like Sherman isn’t relegated to a life on the margins.
Last year, after he served more than 20 long years in prison, I commuted Sherman’s sentence and those of many others who were serving unjust and outdated prison sentences.
And today, I’m commuting the sentences of an additional 214 men and women who are just as deserving of a second chance. Altogether, I’ve commuted more sentences than the past nine presidents combined, and I am not done yet.
These acts of clemency are important steps for families like Sherman’s and steer our country in a better direction, but they alone won’t fix our criminal justice system. We need Congress to pass meaningful federal sentencing reform that will allow us to more effectively use taxpayer dollars to protect the public.
I hope you’ll take a minute to read and share Sherman’s letter. The more we understand the human stories behind this problem, the sooner we can start making real changes that keep our streets safe, break the cycle of incarceration in this country, and save taxpayers like you money.