President Barack Obama officially shortened the sentences of 61 imprisoned drug offenders on Wednesday, March 30.
The President of the United States has the power to grant pardons and commutations to convicted felons that he believes “deserve a second chance.” The 61 inmates, many of whom were nonviolent offenders, and more than one-third of whom were serving life sentences, will be released as early as July 28.
“Throughout the remainder of his time in office, the president is committed to continuing to issue more grants of clemency as well as to strengthening the rehabilitation programs,” reported White House counsel Neil Eggleston.
On a mission to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system, the president sat down with former inmates who had been granted clemency and asked them about the challenges of re-entering society. He found that several of them have pursued careers in law, and many of them got married and had families.
“Their stories are extraordinary,” Obama said. “We’re all imperfect. We all make mistakes.”
Obama has made criminal justice issues a major priority at the end of his final term in office, though he has always called for getting rid of strict sentences for drug offenses. He argues that punishments have been excessive and incarceration rates are far too high.
Opponents of the president’s clemency initiative are critical of Obama’s stance, worried that violent criminals will be released “en masse onto the streets.”
The president’s view on drug-related crime and sentencing does have supporters in both the Democrat and Republican parties across the nation. Last fall, California voters passed Prop 47, a bill that reduced drug possession and non-violent thefts from felonies to misdemeanors.