Why criminal justice reformers are upset with Obama

Bill Keller is upset with President Obama. In an opinion piece at Politico Monday, the former executive editor of the New York Times notes that Obama has embraced criminal justice reform, rhetorically and in practice. Then he asks, "So how come he's freed so few prisoners?"

Keller, who now writes for the Marshall Project, a nonprofit nonpartisan online journalism organization covering criminal justice reform, says that Obama fully supports the idea that America incarcerates too many people for too long. "And yet," Keller writes about Obama, "as he approaches his own last-minute frenzy of requests for clemency, Obama's record so far — counting commutations and pardons — lags behind every recent president except George H.W. Bush, who had only a single term."

In fact, on pardons "Obama is the stingiest president since John Adams — 64 granted so far, less than 3 percent of the petitions filed." Pardons, which wipe out the criminal record of inmates, give ex-inmates a better shot at finding jobs and getting an education, voting and returning to normal lives.

Obama does no better on commutations, which reduce sentences deemed excessive. Obama created the Clemency Project 2014, under which five outside legal groups were involved in developing a process to address clemency requests. Thousands of volunteer lawyers and law students were enlisted to help inmates prepare and write applications for reduced sentences in a fast-track process that would quickly lead to the president's desk.

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