President Barack Obama pardoned 78 people and shortened the sentences of 153 others convicted of federal crimes on Monday – the most individual clemencies ever granted in a single day by any president. As he nears the end of his second term, Obama has issued more commutations than the previous 11 presidents combined, according to the White House.
“The 231 individuals granted clemency today have all demonstrated that they are ready to make use — or have already made use — of a second chance,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post. “While each clemency recipient’s story is unique, the common thread of rehabilitation underlies all of them.”
Of the people granted clemency on Monday, 54 were serving life sentences. In the last months of Obama’s presidency, administration officials have moved quickly to rule on all the pending clemency applications. The president will continue to review clemency applications, and is expected to grant more pardons and commutations before he leaves office, Eggleston said.
Obama has used his constitutional clemency power to reduce the sentences of 1,176 people since he has been in office, according to the White House. About a third of them, 395 people, were serving life sentences. The previous single-day record of 151 commutations was set by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. Monday’s announcement doubles the number of pardons granted by Obama to 148 people.
We must remember that clemency is a tool of last resort and that only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.
Neil Eggleston, White House counsel
In 2014, Obama sought to bring attention to what his administration describes as over-sentencing in federal prisons by directing the Justice Department to prioritize petitions for commutations from nonviolent offenders who were serving longer sentences than they would receive today if they were convicted of the same crimes.