President Obama Breaks The Record For Shortening The Most Inmates’ Sentences In A Single Day

On Wednesday, President Obama shortened 214 federal inmates’ prison sentences, officially breaking the record for the most commutations granted on a single day by a U.S. president. Obama has been very vocal about the fact that there are far too many Americans behind bars (more than 2 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to be exact) and has used his pardoning and commutation power to full capacity.

Along with pardoning 70 people, he has shortened the sentences of 562 people total, the majority of whom were convicted for nonviolent drug crimes — that’s more than any president since Calvin Coolidge. “That being said, our work is far from finished,” wrote White House counsel Neil Eggleston in a blog post. “I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.”

Of the 214 people granted clemency Wednesday, 67 were serving life sentences, almost all for drug crimes, though a few were also convicted for gun crimes related to drugs. Most are men — but 93 percent of federal inmates are men, so that only makes sense — and will now be released Dec. 1. “The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws,” Eggleston quoted President Obama saying.

According to Eggleston, the president examines each clemency case individually, after its passed through multiple lawyers, and shortens people’s sentences to varying degrees. Some must go through drug treatment in order to get out of prison early, while some inmates’ old sentences are simply changed to match today’s lower standards.

ABC News reports that one of those pardoned was Dicky Joe Jackson of Texas. He was sentenced to life in prison for carrying meth in his truck in an attempt to raise money for a bone marrow transplant for his son in 1996. In a 2013 ACLU report titled “A Living Death,” he said a death sentence would be better, continuing to say, “I wish it were over, even if it meant I were dead.” He’ll now be released Dec. 1.

“The individual nature of the clemency process underscores both its incredible power to change a person’s life, but also its inherent shortcoming as a tool for broader sentencing reform,” Eggleston wrote. The White House called on Congress to work on bipartisan criminal justice reform to help decrease America’s prison population on a much larger scale.