President Obama on Monday pardoned 78 people and commuted the sentences of 153 others, setting a record for the most acts of clemency by a president on a single day in U.S. history.
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston explained in a statement, “Today’s acts of clemency — and the mercy the President has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients — exemplify his belief that America is a nation of second chances. The 231 individuals granted clemency today have all demonstrated that they are ready to make use — or have already made use — of a second chance.”
According to the attorney, Obama to date has commuted the sentences of 1,176 people, including 395 life sentences, and granted a total of 148 pardons.
The latter total has him still pacing behind his recent two-term predecessors for pardons, but far-and-away ahead in the number of commutations.
A commutation changes the sentence but does not wipe away the criminal record for the criminal offense committed, while a pardon does.
According to the Justice Department, Ronald Reagan granted 393 pardons, Bill Clinton, 396, and George W. Bush, 189.
Obama stated this summer that his clemency program is aimed at commuting the sentences of those criminals who are in jail under tougher sentencing guidelines than currently exist (such as the “three strikes” laws), including particularly those whose main underlying offense was drug-related.
The Washington Post notes that the Obama administration is working with the Clemency Project 2014, a consortium of four groups that is supplying lawyers to work pro bono to review all the tens of thousands of applicants. For those considered deserving, petitions are prepared by the lawyers and sent to the Department of Justice for review. Those deemed worthy by DOJ are then referred to White House counsel, who make the final recommendations to the president.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals,” Obama said this summer. “But the overwhelming majority had to be sentenced to at least 20 years. … I believe that at its heart, America’s a nation of second chances. And I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Each of the inmates whose sentence has been reduced receives a letter from the president. In it, Obama indicates only a “small fraction” of the applicants were granted the opportunity they are receiving, encouraging them to use it wisely. He writes:
I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances.
But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices…I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, so good luck and Godspeed.
Former President Bill Clinton was highly criticized for a slew of 140 pardons issued on his final day in office, including fugitive Marc Rich, whose wife contributed significantly to the Clintons.
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