President Barack Obamacommuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates today, bringing his commutations to a total of 325 for August. This marks “the greatest number of commutations ever granted by a president in a single month,” White House adviser Neil Eggleston boasted.
There are two significant limitations to these acts of clemency. First, commutations reduce the severity of sentencing without reversing the convictions themselves, or removing any limitations on civil liberties that result from those convictions. Moreover, as Jared Kellerexplained following Obama’s first wave of commutations this month, these sentence reductions have been granted selectively for non-violent drug convictions:
There’s a very specific reason for this sudden uptick in pardons: Obama is using his executive power of clemency to supplement his legislative push to undo the scars left by the War on Drugs.
Some advocates for wider-reaching criminal justice reform have questioned the targeted clemency for non-violent offenders as unfairly excluding people convicted of violent crimes:
These commutations come as heartening news for hundreds of families and individuals, but in the context of the United States’ unparalleled mass incarceration rates, they are still just a drop in the bucket.