We’re still doing a weekly newsletter … we’re just starting to post pieces of it every day. The news is fresher this way …
LOOKING AT A GIFT HORSE
As we reported, President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal prisoners last Wednesday. At least 67 of them were serving life sentences, many of those for nonviolent drug crimes. The White House brags that Obama has now granted 562 commutations, more than “the previous nine presidents combined and more commutations than any individual president in nearly a century.”
This is true, but rather misleading. First, while he’s granted a record number of commutations, he’s only issued 70 pardons so far, fewer than any president in the past 120 years. At an average of seven pardons or commutations per month in office, Obama’s numbers are still well under historic norms for most of the 20th century.
The latest commutations are welcome news for criminal justice reform groups. But Obama’s 562 commutations and 70 pardons represent about one-third of 1 percent of the total federal prison population. Only about 25% of the estimated 2,000 inmates meeting clemency criteria have had their petitions granted, and time is very short.
Speaking of no time, The Hill said of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 last last week that “clearly, the clock is ticking, with little time left on the political calendar this year. Both Senator Grassley and House Speaker Ryan have indicated that they would like to bring the bill to the floor after Labor Day. With a Congress that has been widely disparaged as unable to address serious concerns, enacting sentencing reform would begin to help repair that image while bringing a measure of rationality and compassion to thousands of citizens behind bars.”