Obama Administration Breaks 1,000 Commutations Threshold

Another 79 granted mercy over federal drug war sentences.


It took almost his entire presidency to get it rolling, but President Barack Obama will have ended his term granting more than 1,000 federal prisoners mercy from incredibly long federal sentences placed on them due to severe drug war laws.

Today, the president took to Facebook to announced another 79 commutations. He used the story of Ramona Brant, who was indicted and imprisoned for life over her relationship with a man who was involved in a drug ring. She was released back in February and filmed a video talking about her experiences earlier in the year.

Obama commented on Facebook today:

Ramona's story should serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to reform the sentencing laws for drug crimes in this country. It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or sometimes life, in prison. That's not serving taxpayers, and it's not serving the public safety. Instead, it burdens our already overcrowded prisons. And it hurts families like Ramona's.

Today, I commuted the sentences of 79 people like Ramona, men and women serving overly harsh and outdated sentences, most of them for low-level drug crimes. I've now granted over 1,000 commutations over the course of my presidency.

At the heart of America is the idea that we're all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. And we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility for their mistakes are able to earn a second chance to contribute to our communities and our country. It's the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. Now it's up to good minds on both sides of the aisle to come together to restore fairness in our criminal justice system, use our tax dollars more effectively, and give second chances to those who have earned them.

Today's count puts the number at 1,023. The list of those granted commutations today can be read through here. As with previous grants, these people aren't going to be released immediately. They'll be getting out next year and some of them will be required to seek drug treatment as a condition of release.

There's a push now to try to get the president to speed up the rate of commutations while there's still time. As Reason has previously noted, President-Elect Donald Trump wants to install Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a hardcore drug warrior, as attorney general.

Clemency Project 2014, the group of volunteer lawyers helping process requests for mercy, has determined that there's more than 2,000 prisoners who likely qualify under the Department of Justice's guidelines. Jacob Sullum calculated back in October that Obama could hit 1,500 commutations at this rate before his term is complete.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a bipartisan sentencing reform bill hammered together earlier in the year is going anywhere. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would have made the Fair Sentencing Act—which reduced sentences for crack cocaine crimes to be closer to those for powder cocaine—retroactive. Families Against Mandatory Minimums calculated this law might have helped about 5,800 people currently in prison seek shorter sentences. These are some of the very people who are seeing their sentences commuted by the president.

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  1. I got a message from this morning asking me to sign a petition to get Obama to do lots more of these. I’ll probably sign it. It might even help. But Sessions is sure going to move the line backwards a bunch…

  2. Is it Friday afternoon already? This is both commendable and, it seems, easier than working with Congress on criminal justice reform.

  3. Can’t pardon Snowden, though. Just can’t do it.

    The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

    1. Also, couldn’t reclassify MJ out of schedule I.

      The 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which created five tiers of restricted drugs, says the attorney general may “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”

      1. For some reason I’m picturing Albert Brooks leaning over Obama’s shoulder going: “No, you can’t! You think you can do these things, but you can’t, Nemobama!

      2. trhe kinyun SHOULD lean on his linchpin LYnch and TELL her to reschedule marijuana. It is NOT addicitng, DOES have redeeming medical use, and a few other reasons it is in Class 1 are bogus. That was done to protect the interests of DuPont de Nemours by eliminating all forms of the hemp family from legal cultivation/use in the US, to protect their new product nylon, a superior fibre for marine and undustrial cordage…. ropes and rigging. DuPont could not bear to trust the free market realing their product is superior in many ways for most applications, and would do fine against hemp, manila, etc. So they BOUGHT Uncle Stupid and WE suffer.

        1. Could you repeat that?

    1. Yes. Huzzah!

  4. 1000 commutations of nonviolent “criminals” is just an okay start. Better keep that pen and phone handy, Barry.

  5. Okay, his administration is officially no longer a complete POS.

    Still, low bar for Trump.

  6. At the heart of America is the idea that we’re all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. And we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility for their mistakes . . .

    Look fuckhead, the people you’re pardoning/commuting – they didn’t make mistakes. They used some pot or meth. Not a mistake. Unless your idea of mistake is ‘If they hadn’t done what I told ’em not to do, they’d still be alive’ Mr. Blonde.

    1. ^ One trillion times this!

    2. imperfect is one thing, but entitled to God givern unalienable RIGHTS is quite another, and the bonehead kinyun can’t sort those two out. FedGov have NO authority to meddle in anything we do/do not put into our bodies. Thus NO authority to “regulate” or “classify’ marijuana or anything else.

      HIS duty as president is to make sure the laws passed PERSUANT to the Constitutioin are enforced. And the Controlled SUbstaces Act is NOT “persuant to the Constitution” and never will be until it is ammended giving that power to FedGov…. which won’t happen. More than half the states how allow some level of use/possession of marijuna, so there is n way 3/4 of the states will ratify such an ammendment. Perhaps twenty years ago when most folks bought off on the lies put forth in Reefer Madness… but not today.

  7. Credit where due. Better than Clinton (but I didn’t inhale) or reputed coke fiend GW. But 8 years of drug warring, droning, global warming crap, regulatory insanity and Obamacare. Not worth the trade. He’s beyond redemption in my view but taking MJ off schedule 1 would give me a warm fuzzy feeling for a minute. He can get it done Dec. 31 and force Trump to reverse, or not. But I’m guessing he’s too big a prick and would rather leave it for the Donald.

  8. Enjoy it while it lasts…..


  9. Probably the best thing he’s done as Prez. Hope he works OT to get many more non-violent offenders out where they belong.

  10. the ONE thing this sporry excuse of a president has done that has ANY merit at all.

    NOW, someone should back this clown up into a tight corner and ask him this: WHY has his BATF recently changed the ATF Form 4473 to clearly indicate that ANY use of marijuana is against federal laws (all of them unconstitutinal) and thus a disabling factor for Americans to purchase firearms? And if he is so convinced marijuana use/possession is alright, WHY has he not simply REFUSED to prosecute non-violent simple possessioin/transportaioin charges persuant to the illegal Controlled Substances Act? He refuses to deport those the law REQUIRES he deport, refuses to prosecute HIS OWN goons involved in illegally exporting small arms to Mexican drug cartels, he COULD have made a radicla change for the better by also refusing all federal prosecution of simple minor possession, transport, etc, charges under the CSA, as well as the “add on” charges for possession of a firearm at the same time as marijuana.

    He’s as two faced as they come. He’s grandstanding. But at least a thousand folks are set free from ridiculous sentences none deserve.

    And no, I do NOT use the stuff, though I could legally, as my state has medical use legal and I have no question I would easily qualify under even the strictest standards.

  11. We need thousands of acts of mercy and compassion to fulfill the promise. Eric Holder said that there could indeed be 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders released.

    There are thousands of petitions in the Pardon Attorney’s office that need to be processed. It is not fiscally responsible nor is it just to sentence nonviolent drug offenders to life without parole. It is not a sentence that fits the crime. Sentencing nonviolent citizens to a living death does not speak to how we perceive of ourselves as individuals or as a country,

    1. I agree. Good luck with that under Jeff Sessions.

  12. And just how many were white people?

  13. Consider the Federal Census stats on yearly driving fatalities from 1990 to 2009. All states, ‘legal’ or not, have seen their death rates drop, but on average, those with medical marijuana laws posted declines 12% larger than the non-medical states. Vehicle airbags helped as well, consistently throughout the country, without affecting the disproportion between the ‘legal states’ and those ‘not yet, in 2009’.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating on a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”.

    Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!'”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana actually encourages brain-cell growth. Studies in Spain show that it has tumor-shrinking, anti-cancer properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair.

    Now consider the politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps on their campaign trails, but can’t face the scientific or historical truths about cannabis.

    1. No one needs to justify a right. What we put in our body is by right, not custom or govt. policy or law. The immoral imprison the victimless “crime” individuals.

      Pointing out the irrational, even hypocritical laws that violate our rights is fine, but rights should always be first and last in our comment.

  14. The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.

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  16. Obama is legacy fishing.

    He “takes to Facebook” two months before his final term ends and engages in a little tokenism while how many drug users still rot away behind bars? And “offenders” they are still being incarcerated. If he really wanted to make a difference he’d go a lot further. It’s not like incoming Trump administration is going to be reasonable about this. (Why DO so many “libertarians” and “anarchists” want to fellate Trump, anyway?)

  17. If Obama wanted to be remembered in history for centuries he could grant a blanket pardon for all victimless convictions that had no violence connected with them. I’m guessing but it might be 500,000+? Now that would be the humanitarian (libertarian) thing to do.

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  22. Its hard to take Obama seriously on criminal justice reform while people are still being arrested about something he’s admitted to doing. Does he think his life would be better if he had gotten into more legal trouble as a teen?

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