On his last day as commander in chief, former President Barack Obama commuted 330 additional prison sentences for federal inmates convicted of drug-related crimes.
That brings the total number of commutations during his presidency to 1,715 — including 568 who were serving life in prison, reports The Associated Press. According to the White House, Obama granted clemency to more prisoners than any president in history.
“He wanted the opportunity to look at as many as he could to provide relief,” said Neil Eggleston, Obama’s White House counsel. “He saw the injustice of the sentences that were imposed in many situations, and he has a strong view that people deserve a second chance.”
It was the last significant act as president for Obama, who leaves office at noon on Jan. 20, when President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in.
Obama has stated that sentencing requirements for drug offenders led to unreasonably long terms. He argued that such overly strict sentences constituted excessive punishment, and have earned the United States the embarrassing distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
During Obama’s tenure, the Justice Department directed prosecutors to avoid harsh mandatory minimums, but his attempts to sway Congress on the matter were unsuccessful.
The inmates who received commutations had to be nonviolent offenders who had shown good behavior and, in most cases, had served at least 10 years of their sentence.
According to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, the Obama administration reviewed every application for clemency that it received — a total of more than 16,000.
Obama himself personally reviewed the case of every inmate whose sentence he commuted, she added.
The president was particularly motived to grant clemency to those who turned their lives around while imprisoned, noted Eggleston.
“The ones who really stuck home for the president and me are the ones who got their GED, they worked, they took courses in anger management, they took courses in getting over drug abuse issues, they remained in [contact] with their families,” he said.
Convicted leaker Chelsea Manning is probably the most well-known prisoner who received clemency from Obama, who argued that the Army intelligence analyst had shown remorse and had already served a long sentence.
However, notable prisoners whom Obama refused to pardon include former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and American Indian Leonard Peltier, who is widely considered to be a political prisoner, notes The Washington Post.
Sources: The Associated Press, The Washington Post / Photo credit: The White House via Venture Beat