For 46 prisoners, the U.S. really is the land of opportunity, or at least one of second chances, after President Barack Obama commuted their sentences on July 13 for nonviolent drug offenses.
According to NPR, the president's move reflects his larger plan to make the nation's criminal justice system more fair.
"These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses, so their punishments didn't fit the crime," the president explained in a video released on Facebook, CBS News reports.
With the addition of these 46, Obama has now issued 89 commutations — a number much higher than his two predecessors. Former President George W. Bush only issued 11 commutations, while former President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 61 prisoners, according to CBS News.
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The president wrote a letter to each of the 46 men and women. In his letter to Jerry Allen Bailey, NPR reports that Obama wrote:
"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances. But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices."
Although commutations are considered rare, Obama’s decision comes as a part of his reforms on sentencing in the country. Many expect the president will continue his discussion of this topic when he addresses the NAACP’s annual conference in Philadelphia. He also plans to visit the El Reno prison in Oklahoma, making him the first president to ever visit a federal prison, according to NPR and CBS News.
As part of Obama's video announcement, NPR reports, the president summed up his action by stating, "I believe that at its heart America is a nation of second chances. And I believe that these folks deserve their second chance."