WASHINGTON — President Obama commuted the sentences of 111 more federal inmates Tuesday, capping a month in which he's nearly doubled the number of commutations granted during his presidency.
The breakneck pace of presidential clemency comes as the Obama White House attempts to get through a backlog of 11,477 cases that were pending as of August 11. In addition to the 325 commutations granted this month, Obama also quietly denied 2,227 cases on August 8.
The commutations — a shortening of a criminal sentence using the president's constitutional pardon power — are part of the Obama administration's two-year old clemency initiative.
As Congress has shortened the sentences for drug crimes, it's also failed to make many of those reduced sentences retroactive — a disparity Obama is trying to correct by through unilaterally action.
About a third of Obama's 673 commutations to date have been for people serving life sentences.
"They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a blog post Tuesday. "For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance."
Obama vigorously defended his use of commutations at a news conference earlier this month, saying a bipartisan consensus is emerging around reforming unduly harsh drug sentences. But with those efforts stalled on Capitol Hill, he said he needed to act.
"As successful as we’ve been in reducing crime in this country, the extraordinary rate of incarceration of nonviolent offenders has created its own set of problems that are devastating," he said. "Entire communities have been ravaged where largely men, but some women, are taken out of those communities. Kids are now growing up without parents It perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disorder in their lives. It is disproportionately young men of color that are being arrested at higher rates, charged and convicted at higher rates, and imprisoned for longer sentences."
Those granted shorter sentences Tuesday were convicted of drug offenses for trafficking cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. But sixteen of the commutations granted Tuesday also included firearms offenses. In his August 4 press conference, he said he's tried to "screen out" inmates with a propensity for violence.