President Obama commuted the sentences of 95 drug offenders Friday, more than double the number of commutations he granted earlier this year in July, in an effort to reduce prison crowding and give relief to drug offenders who were harshly sentenced in the nation’s war on drugs.
It is the third time this year that the president has used his unique clemency power to release federal drug offenders, whose harsh sentences have contributed to the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Obama granted clemency to 22 drug offenders in March and another 46 in July.
The United States has less than five percent of the world’s population, but nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population. One in 100 adults is behind bars in America, according to the Coalition for Public Safety, a bipartisan criminal justice reform organization.
A White House spokeswoman said that Obama has surpassed the number of 88 commutations granted by the previous four presidents, Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush combined.
President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma earlier this year. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/AP)
All inmates given clemency by Obama are first sent to lower-security prisons and then halfway houses to help begin their transition before they are released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. After that approximately four-month process, the inmates are released and transferred to the custody of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services system.
One of the inmates granted clemency was Sharanda Jones, a 48-year-old Texas woman who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a single cocaine offense. She was a first-time, nonviolent offender.
The Washington Post highlighted “Jones’ case in July as an example of the tens of thousands of inmates in federal prison who received severe mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses during the crack-cocaine epidemic. Jones has spent the last 16 years behind bars, leaving an 8-year-old daughter to grow up without her mother.
“The president literally saved her life today,” said Brittany Bryd, the attorney who filed Jones’ clemency petition.
Some of the commutations granted by Obama were prepared by pro-bono lawyers across the country working with Clemency Project 2014, an organization that was formed after the Justice Department set out criteria in a new initiative in the spring of 2014 that would make certain federal drug defendants eligible for clemency.
The latest round of clemencies come as lawmakers in Congress are debating several bipartisan bills to change sentencing laws.
Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.