President Obama today commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners forced behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes, marking the latest move in a bipartisan push to relax harsh sentencing laws.
Obama said the inmates granted clemency were serving punishments that “didn’t fit the crime” in a video announcement posted to the White House Facebook page Monday afternoon.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years—14 of them had been sentenced to life—for nonviolent drug offenses,” the president said. “If they’d been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would’ve already served their time.”
Monday’s orders more than doubled the number of commutations Obama has granted since taking office, bringing his clemency grants to a total of 89, the most any administration has ordered since Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
John Malcolm, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said Obama has given the inmates granted clemency a “tremendous opportunity” to rejoin society.
“It is my sincere hope that they prove themselves to be worthy of the trust that has been reposed in them and that they become law abiding, productive members of society,” he said.
Obama’s commutations are part of a broader push to reform the criminal justice system’s outdated sentencing procedures put in place in the 1980s by politicians who wanted to crack down on crime. The U.S. currently spends $80 billion a year incarcerating people who have committed nonviolent drug crimes, according to the White House.
“America is a nation of second chances and I believe these folks deserve their second chance,” Obama said. “I also believe there’s a lot more we can do to restore the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system and to make sure our tax dollars are well spent even as we are keeping our streets safe.”
The president is spending the week focusing on criminal justice reform, taking his next step in Philadelphia at the NAACP’s annual convention Tuesday, where he will introduce proposals that would change sentencing guidelines at the federal level.
Obama will then travel to a prison in Oklahoma Thursday, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.
“Together, we can make our communities safer, we can spend our tax dollars more wisely, and we can make sure that more of our citizens, even those who’ve made mistakes, have a chance to become productive members of our society and contribute to this country we love,” he said.