President Obama meets with inmates at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., in 2015. (The White House / CC BY-SA 3.0)

With just weeks left in the White House, President Obama has followed through on a promise to exercise his presidential powers for clemency. On Tuesday, he issued 78 pardons and 153 commutations—shortened sentences—to people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses.

By granting clemency to 231 individuals he determined would make use of a second chance, Obama racked up “the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any president in this nation’s history,” according to the White House blog. In his eight years in office, the president has granted clemency to a total of 1,324 people.

Obama’s acts of clemency stem from “a belief that the sentencing system in the United States was used to lock up minor criminals—often minorities—for excessively long periods of time,” according to The New York Times.

In granting 148 pardons during his two-term presidency, President Obama is following his predecessors with his last-minute efforts. President George W. Bush finished his two terms with 189 pardons, while President Bill Clinton left office with a controversial 396 pardons. President Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the record, with 3,687 pardons during his three terms.

Those pardoned are now law-abiding citizens who have made contributions to their communities, according to the White House blog. Going forward, their convictions will be cleared from their records.

The 231 people granted clemency would receive more lenient sentences if they were convicted of the same charges now. Anti-drug laws previously mandated strict minimum sentences.

“Virtually all had been serving sentences under tough anti-drug laws, including those convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes like possession of cocaine,” the Times reports.

To date, the president has issued 1,176 commutations—including 395 life sentences—freeing prisoners before their release date for exhibiting good behavior and making steps toward healing. This number exceeds the past 11 presidents combined, according to the Times.

“These are the stories that demonstrate the successes that can be achieved—by both individuals and society—in a nation of second chances,” the White House blog reads.

White House Counsel to the President Neil Eggleston hints that Obama will continue to grant clemency to individuals who have turned over a new leaf.

He writes:

The President continues to review clemency applications on an individualized basis to determine whether a particular applicant has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance, and I expect that the President will issue more grants of both commutations and pardons before he leaves office. The mercy that the President has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients is remarkable, but we must remember that clemency is a tool of last resort and that only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.

Posted by KiMi Robinson

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