President Obama shortened the sentences of 214 federal prisoners on August 3, a move that reflects the president’s belief that “America is a nation of second chances.”
Nearly all the prisoners were serving sentences for nonviolent crimes related to illegal drugs, although a few were charged with firearms violations related to their drug activities.
“The power to grant pardons,” Obama said, “embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
Obama has expressed his opposition to what he calls “outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws” of past decades. He said these laws led to excessive punishment and unnecessarily high incarceration rates. Sixty-seven of the prisoners in these most recent commutations were serving life sentences.
A commutation means that the original sentence is replaced with another, in this case one aligned with the sentence the same crime would receive today.
The U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to pardon or commute federal prison sentences.
According to the president’s counsel, Neil Eggleston, the president reviews each application for clemency and tailors the commutation to each case. Some of those whose sentences have been commuted will be released from prison, while others will continue to serve reduced terms.
Obama has commuted 562 sentences during his presidency.