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Obama Shortens Terms for 214 Prisoners; 67 Had Life Sentences…most communited in 1 day in American history


President Barack Obama on Wednesday cut short the sentences of 214 federal inmates, including 67 life sentences, in what the White House called the largest batch of commutations on a single day in more than a century.

Almost all the prisoners were serving time for nonviolent crimes related to cocaine, methamphetamine or other drugs, although a few were charged with firearms violations related to their drug activities. Almost all are men, though they represent a diverse cross-section of America geographically.

Obama’s push to lessen the burden on nonviolent drug offenders reflects his long-stated view that the U.S. needs to remedy the consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that put tens of thousands behind bars for far too long. Obama has used the aggressive pace of his commutations to increase pressure on Congress to pass a broader fix and to call more attention to the issue.

One of the inmates, Dicky Joe Jackson of Texas, was given a life sentence in 1996 for methamphetamine violations and for being a felon with an unlicensed gun. He told the ACLU in a 2013 report that a death sentence would have been preferable, adding, “I wish it were over, even if it meant I were dead.”

Another recipient, Debra Brown of Tennessee, was convicted of selling cocaine in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years. Both Brown’s and Jackson’s sentences will now end Dec. 1, along with most of the rest of those receiving commutations Wednesday.

All told, Obama has commuted 562 sentences during his presidency — more than the past nine presidents combined, the White House said. Almost 200 of those who have benefited were serving life sentences.

“All of the individuals receiving commutation today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,'” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.

Eggleston said Obama examines each clemency application on its specific merits to identify the appropriate relief, including whether the prisoner would be helped by additional drug treatment, educational programming or counseling. He called on Congress to finally pass a criminal justice overhaul to bring about “lasting change to the federal system.”

Presidents tend to use their


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