Obama gave lots of gifts this season before he leaves office. He commuted the sentences of 153 prisoners and pardoned 78 more. Commuted as in meaning he granted a lesser sentence for a prisoner’s crime. Pardoned as in forgave the crime. Add it up and it is 231 acts of forgiveness. It is the biggest act of clemency on a single day and it is only a fraction of Obama’s gifts this season. The United States represents about only 5% of the world’s population. Yet we house more than 20% of the world’s prisoners. Most of them are from incarcerations for drug offenses. In 1984 there were 41 thousand prisoners. In 2014 there are 488 thousand incarcerations.
Judges by law had no choice but to hand down lengthily sentences including life in prison. Now many states have voted to make marijuana use legal. In 1988 possession of as little of 5 grams of crack cocaine had a mandatory sentence of 20 years behind bars. There are a lot of African-Americans in prison because of laws like this one. They make up 13% of the prison population but 39% are in Federal prisons. President Obama is trying to undo some of the systems most unfair sentences. President Obama commuted 1,176 prisoners convicted of non- violent and mostly drug related crimes. 395 were serving life sentences. Obama has let out of prison more people than the past 11 Presidents combined!
Daddy Bush let out 11 prisoners, Clinton 61 prisoners, Baby Bush only 3 prisoners, Regan 13, Carter 29 and Ford 22. We can go back further to Nixon who let out 60 prisoners, Johnson 226, Kennedy 100, Eisenhower 47 and Truman 11. Many Judges are in favor for the President’s decisions on clemency because for years they felt their hands were tied and were forced to give strict sentences for non-violent offenses. Some offences are now legal in some states. Many sentences were for first offenders who wound up in the mandatory sentence system. Most were black men. There was no judging going on. The judging was going on by the prosecutor who claimed what the charge was.
The Clemency Process is not an easy thing. You have to have been convicted of a federal crime. You must have already served more than 10 years of your sentence. You must apply to the Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney. This office reviews the case and if they consider it worthy, will then pass the case onto the Deputy Attorney General who then sends it on to the White House Counsel and then the President who makes the final decision that can not be appealed. Applications can be denied at any point along this long process. The Obama Administration has received nearly 32,000 applications for Clemency.
There are a lot of welcome home parties this year but so many more who didn’t make it to freedom.