President Obama announced 12 pardons and 8 commutations of sentences recently. The pardons involve people who have served out their sentences long ago, and involve the most minor crimes. He also granted 8 sentence commutations to low-level drug offenders, who had been given hefty penalties.
The eight commutations are especially interesting, because of the fact that there have been very few clemencies granted under this presidency. In fact, President Obama has probably been one of the most unforgivable presidents on record. That restricted use of his clemency powers has come even as prison systems across the country, including in California have filled to the bursting point.
Earlier this year, the President also announced an initiative that would encourage nonviolent drug offenders to apply for clemency. Tens of thousands of petitions have already been filed, and processing is likely to go on over the next three years.
There are 219,000 federal inmates in the country's prisons, and the clemency initiative has been designed to reduce the prison population. Under the present White House initiative, clemency applicants would be required to have served at least 10 years of the sentence, have no significant violent criminal incidents on the record, and no connection to any organized crime. They must also show good conduct in prison, and must also have been those who would probably have been eligible for a lower sentence if they had been convicted of the same crime now.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are at least 300,000 prisoners currently serving out state as well as federal sentences for a number of drug crimes. About 100,000 people have been imprisoned for drug possession crimes alone. Thousands more are in prison for other very low-level drug offenses.