WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Thursday commuted the prison sentences of 58 federal convicts, part of a broader push to revamp the criminal justice system and ease punishments for nonviolent drug offenders.
The people whose prison terms were cut short include 18 who were given life sentences. Most who received clemency are now due for release on September 2, though others will be released over the next two years.
The latest wave — which includes defendants convicted of dealing cocaine, crack and methamphetamine — brings to 306 the total number of inmates whose sentences Obama has commuted, the vast majority for drug crimes. The pace of commutations — along with pardons, which are less common — is expected to increase as the end of Obama's presidency nears.
The prisoners given commutations have been "granted a second chance to lead productive and law-abiding lives," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates.
"Our clemency work is continuing as part of our broader efforts to effectuate criminal justice reform and ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing," Yates said.
The Justice Department revamped the clemency process two years ago to encourage more applications from federal offenders. The administration expanded the criteria for eligible inmates, soliciting petitions from inmates who were convicted of nonviolent crimes, had served at least 10 years of their sentences and had been well behaved behind bars, among other considerations.
Advocates have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they term the slow pace of that process, saying it has denied thousands of deserving good candidates a fair shot at an early release.
"I am pleased by today's news but I know that for every prisoner whose sentence the president commuted today, there are a hundred more who are equally worthy," said Mary Price, general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.