President Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates in a single day on Aug. 2, setting a new record for presidential commutations. Throughout his second term, Obama has called for drawing down mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses.
A presidential commutation is not a pardon; instead of immediate release, inmates have their sentences reduced and are often still supervised after returning to society.
Political scientist P.S. Ruckman Jr. confirmed that this sets a new record for presidential commutations in a single day, USA Today reports.
The previous record holder was former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who commuted the sentences of 151 inmates on July 26, 1935.
Of the inmates who have had their sentences reduced, Richard L. Reser of Kansas had the longest at 40 years for drug dealing and firearm possession. Now, Reser will be released on Dec. 1, 2016.
Sixty-seven of the federal inmates who have had their sentences commuted had been incarcerated with a life sentence, ABC News reports.
Obama took to Facebook to post a letter from inmate Sherman D. Chester, whose sentence he had commuted in December 2015. Chester expressed gratitude to Obama for “believing in me enough to give me that second chance … I intend to do and be my best so that the decision you made believing in me will not be a poor one.”
In his post, the president wrote that individuals such as Chester demonstrate that the criminal justice system needs reform.
“These acts of clemency are important steps for families like Sherman’s and steer our country in a better direction, but they alone won’t fix our criminal justice system,” Obama wrote. “We need the Congress to pass meaningful federal sentencing reform that will allow us to more effectively use taxpayers dollars to protect the public.”
Advocates for criminal justice reform praised Obama’s efforts to commute the sentences of low-level offenders, but have persistently called for more to be done.
“While the commutations President Obama granted today are an important step forward, they remind us of how much more work this administration has to do if it is to grant relief to every person eligible,” said law professor Mark Osler of St. Thomas University.
The Clemency Resource Center of NYU School of Law has estimated that 1,500 pending applications for commutation meet the Obama administration’s established criteria for reducing sentences.