President Barack Obama commuted 79 federal prisoners' sentences on Nov. 22, bringing the total number of sentences he has commuted to more than 1,000.
Obama commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 nonviolent drug offenders since announcing his commitment to clemency in 2014, surpassing the total number of commutations awarded by the past 11 presidents combined, The Washington Post reports.
The commutations were primarily awarded to inmates who were sentenced under mandatory minimum drug laws who would have received lighter punishments under current legislation, including 342 men and women who were expected to die in prison.
"At the heart of America is the idea that we're all imperfect. We all make mistakes," Obama said in a statement regarding the commutations on Nov. 22. "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."
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Obama announced in 2014 he would work with pro bono lawyers and the Justice Department to adjust sentences deemed “overly harsh and unfit of the crime” with his presidential powers of clemency and commutation, resulting in 6,300 petitions to amend the sentences of drug offenders in the U.S. as of Aug. 31, Reuters reports.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has stated the Justice Department intends to uphold their promise to review every petition by the end of the Obama administration, saying the department is “on track to be able to make those recommendations to the White House so that the president can make an informed decision.”
Many families of inmates with standing petitions are growing anxious as Obama’s presidency comes to a close, because the expectation is that President-elect Donald Trump will not follow Obama’s commitment to clemency.
On a press call on Nov. 21, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said Obama will use the most of his time left in office to grant additional commutations before Trump takes office.
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“We have two months left in this administration,” Eggleston said. “I think you can anticipate that we will keep going until the end.”