On Tuesday, March 31, President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 federal inmates. The list released by the White House shows they had all received long sentences (20 years to life) for drug distribution charges. Thirteen of them had been sentenced for crack-related charges; others had been involved in trafficking or manufacturing cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or marijuana. By the time they are released, the average time someone in this group will have served is a little over 16 years.

Unfortunately, the prospect of commutation is still a very faint hope for those serving long sentences for drug charges. Due to the clemency initiative, which began a year ago, the Office of the Pardon Attorney received 6,561 petitions for clemency last fiscal year. Some commentators guess that there are a few thousand more inmates who are in the same situation as these 22. We don’t know why these 22 were chosen, though P.S. Ruckman, Jr., doesn’t think they had some “inside connection,” so that’s encouraging.

We will have to wait and see whether President Obama will exercise his clemency power in the remaining 21 months of his presidency, or whether, as he has done for most of his presidency, said promising things about sentencing reform without exercising political will to make substantive changes.

Ruckman chart on presidents granting clemency

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., compares Obama’s clemency record with other presidents’.


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