President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 people on Tuesday, doubling the number of commutations he has granted during his administration in just one day. The decision follows a push from the Justice Department last year to grant clemency to nonviolent prisoners, many of whom had been sent to prison under the harsh sentencing laws and aggressive anti-crime policies that were originally implemented during the 1980s and 1990s.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the founder of the nation’s first law school clinic on federal commutations, said that the President’s action is not only historic, but also represents a commitment. “This is intended to be a message of hope,” Osler told ProPublica. “There are thousands of Americans who are going to read this and say that’s like my case or my father’s case. Now, the President has to follow through and take that seriously.”
In April 2014, the Justice Department announced a new initiative to fast-track clemency petitions for prisoners who, under today’s sentencing laws, would have received a substantially lower sentence for the same offense. To speed up the application process, the Justice Department introduced new criteria to help prioritize the petitions, stating that the agency would prioritize non-violent offenders who had served more than 10 years of their sentences.