The expected announcement this week that U.S. President Barack Obama would commute the sentences of more than 40 nonviolent offenders was unlikely to change his administration's record of granting few pardons to petitioners, a new report says. Obama's limited use of the pardon has been a frequent criticism of a president who has emphasized the importance of criminal justice reform and changing stringent policies that have resulted in overcrowded prisons.
Presidential aides told the New York Times on July 3 that Obama would issue orders to free dozens of federal prisoners guilty of nonviolent drug offenses as part of a broader policy shift aimed at reducing oversentencing in the U.S. criminal justice system after decades of harsh drug law penalties that have disproportionately affected young African-American and Latino men. In a first for a sitting U.S. president, Obama planned to visit a federal prison in Oklahoma on Thursday in an effort to demonstrate his commitment to sentencing reform and reducing the nation's prison population.
“It’s a time when conservatives and liberals and libertarians and lots of different people on the political spectrum” have “come together in order to focus attention on excessive sentences, the costs and the like, and the need to correct some of those excesses,” said Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel who recommends clemency petitions to Obama, the New York Times reported. “So I think the president sees the commutations as a piece of that entire process.”
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But the commuted sentences were unlikely to include any pardons of petitioners for former crimes, Yahoo News reported.
“He’s been unusually stingy -- he’s a clemency Grinch,” Douglas Berman, an Ohio State law professor who has studied presidential pardons, told Yahoo News. Obama has previously criticized the Office of the Pardon Attorney for primarily providing him with wealthy candidates who want former sentences removed from their record.
In an email to Yahoo News responding to the minimal number of pardons granted by the president, a spokeswoman for the White House said that "the president's term isn't over yet" and that "the president believes strongly that the ability to petition for clemency is a critical component of our criminal justice system. He looks forward to reviewing additional requests for clemency in the coming months."