Looks like President Obama is checking a few more things off his second term bucket list. After the Supreme Court upheld his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and legalized marriage equality, the president is looking to deliver on yet another one of his passions: reforming the criminal justice system.
Monday, President Obama announced he was commuting the sentences of 46 men and women whose “punishments didn’t fit the crime.”
“Over the last few years, a lot of people have become aware of the inequities in the criminal justice system. The fact that we spend over $80 billion a year incarcerating people, oftentimes, who’ve only been engaged in non-violent drug offenses. Right now, with our overall crime rate and incarceration rate both falling, we’re at a moment when some good people…are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter, to make it work better. And I’m determined to do my part wherever I can.”
“I believe that in its heart America is a nation of second chances,” Obama added. “And I believe these folks deserve a second chance.”
The 46 men and women affected by President Obama’s actions make up the largest number of commutations granted by a president in a single day since the 1960s. It also brings President Obama’s total number of sentence commutations to 89. Additionally, he’s issued 64 full presidential pardons since taking office.
Back in 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes in federal drug sentencing laws for non-violent offenders, which have been blamed for the explosion in the prison population and mass incarceration of people of color over the past three decades.
Last year, Holder said the change was making an impact.
“For years prior to this administration, federal prosecutors were not only encouraged — but required — to always seek the most severe prison sentence possible for all drug cases, no matter the relative risk they posed to public safety. I have made a break from that philosophy,” Holder said in a speech at the National Press Club. “While old habits are hard to break, these numbers show that a dramatic shift is underway in the mindset of prosecutors handling nonviolent drug offenses. I believe we have taken steps to institutionalize this fairer, more practical approach such that it will endure for years to come.”
The president’s action is just one of many steps he’s taking to reform the criminal justice system. On Tuesday he will give the keynote address at this year’s NAACP convention, tackling the issue of justice reform, and on Thursday he’ll become the first sitting president to tour a federal prison.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said today’s commutations were only the beginning.
“We will continue to recommend to the President appropriate candidates for clemency,” Yates said. “And we will continue to work with Congress on re-calibrating our sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders.”
All of the prisoners granted clemency will be released by November 10.