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President Obama this week commuted the sentences of hundreds of nonviolent federal prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses, commuting more in a single day and under a single presidency than any other chief executive in American history.

Sentences reduced for non-violent drug offenders

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The president granted commutations – or shortened prison sentences – throughout the week.

On Tuesday, Obama commuted the sentences of 209 prisoners. An overwhelming number of those who received shortened sentences had been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

On Thursday, the president granted commutations to 330 prisoners – a record for a U.S. president in a single day.

President Obama on Thursday tweeted that he was proud of his decision and believed that the nation was one of “second chances”:

Among the prisoners whose sentences were commuted on Thursday was former army private Chelsea Manning, who was incarcerated following reports she revealed classified military and government secrets.

Clemency initiative

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The president has issued a grand total of 1,715 clemencies. According to one media account, that is more than the past 12 presidents put together.

The president’s decision was backed up by Sally Q. Yates, the deputy attorney general.

By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system… With 1,715 commutations in total, this undertaking was as enormous as it was unprecedented.

The clemency initiative was spearheaded by the president in 2014 to commute the sentences received by drug dealers during the War on Drugs of the 1980s thru to the 2000s. Many of those sentences were arrived at through mandatory-minimum sentencing.

Though the president holds the record for most commutations granted, he also holds the record for most commutations denied: As of last month, the president has denied a total of 14,485 petitions for clemency.

Reactions

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President Obama’s actions were met with praise from many legal and human rights activists.

Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national head of an effort to halve the country’s prison population called #cut50, lauded the president in a statement.

For far too long, efforts to fight crime have missed their mark, breaking up families  and harming the human potential in our most vulnerable communities.

Thanks to President Obama’s clemency initiative, more than one thousand people who were given overly harsh sentences during the War on Drugs now have a second chance at freedom.

Despite the president’s actions garnering praise, however, they were also met with their share of criticism.

Julie Stewart, the founder and one of the principal members of the organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums,  stated that the president could have gone even further than he did.

[M]y heart aches for those who will not make the cut… After over two years of believing they may have a chance for freedom, they now see that door of hope closing.

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