WASHINGTON — President Obama commuted the sentences of another 102 federal prison inmates Thursday, continuing his move to dramatically reduce the number of inmates in prison for drug crimes.
"The vast majority of today’s grants were for individuals serving unduly harsh sentences for drug-related crimes under outdated sentencing laws," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. "With today’s grants, the President has commuted 774 sentences, more than the previous 11 presidents combined. With a total of 590 commutations this year, President Obama has now commuted the sentences of more individuals in one year than in any other single year in our nation’s history."
Thursday's announcement follows a record-breaking month in August, when Obama commuted the sentences of 325 inmates.
What started as a relatively simply move to reduce the sentences of those convicted of drug crimes has turned into a move to grant commutations to inmates convicted of more serious crimes. That has meant commuting sentences without immediately releasing the inmates in what are known as "term" commutations, as opposed to the more common "time served" commutations. They represent a remarkable departure from recent past practice. Unlike a full pardon, commutations shorten sentences but leave other consequences of the conviction in place.
A USA TODAY analysis of Obama's 673 commutations through August showed a marked change in strategy on his clemency initiative, one of the key criminal justice reform efforts of his presidency.
Before August, almost all of the inmates whose sentences were commuted were released within four months, enough time for the Bureau of Prisons to arrange for court-supervised monitoring and other re-entry programs. But the last two rounds of commutations granted in August showed that 39% came with a year or more left to serve on the sentence.
Obama has also commuted the sentences of even more serious offenders. Before August, 13% of inmates receiving clemency had used a firearm in the offense. For those granted presidential mercy in August, it was 22%. On Thursday, 11 of the 102 commutations involved sentences involving a firearm.
In Thursday's announcement, 21 inmates were scheduled to be released from prison on Feb. 3, 2017. The rest will be released later in 2017 or years in the future, which is a continuation of the trend toward term resentencing.
Contributing: Gregory Korte