Will President Obama get through the backlog of commutation petitions?
By Christopher Zoukis
President Barack Obama granted clemency to 111 federal prisoners on August 31, 2016, bringing the total number of commutations granted in his term to 673.Presisdent Obama has now commuted the sentences of more prisoners than the last 10 presidents combined.
But there are still thousands of petitions pending, and President Obama has only a few months left in his presidency.
Mark Osler, a law professor and co-founder of the Clemency Resource Center at New York University School of Law, has led an effort by advocates to pressure the White House to speed up the process.
“More than 1,500 people are eligible for commutation under the criteria the administration established, but at the current pace, they will fall short of meeting that threshold,” said Osler. “These non-violent offenders have been promised a full review and relief, and they deserve nothing less. We again urge the president to speed up his administration’s review of the petitions it has received and to consider whether there are structural changes to the process that would ensure justice is done for every petitioner.”
The White House insists it is doing its part, but notes that significant criminal justice reform efforts must be undertaken legislatively.
“We’re going to keep our foot on the gas pedal when it comes to reviewing applications for clemency, but we are also going to need leaders in both parties in Congress to pass long overdue reforms to our criminal justice system to achieve lasting change on the scale that is needed,” said White House counsel Neil Eggleston.
Not all law makers believe that President Obama’s clemency efforts are appropriate, however. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) recently stated that the president “continues to abuse executive power in an unprecedented, reckless manner to systematically release high-level drug traffickers and firearm felons. These [214 recently commuted prisoners] are not so-called low-level, non-violent offenders — which simply do not exist in the federal system.”
Opinions on the president’s Clemency Project 2014 vary, but the time left in President Obama’s term does not. It remains to be seen whether the pending clemency applications will be reviewed and processed in time.
About the author: Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), along with the forthcoming Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2016). He’s also a contributing writer to The Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at http://www.prisoneducation.com and http://www.christopherzoukis.com