- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

President Obama commuted the prison terms for 214 federal inmates Wednesday, the most by a president in a single day in at least a century and brings his communication total in 71/2 years to greater than the number granted in the previous 48.

Among those granted clemency by Mr. Obama were 67 inmates serving life prison terms, mostly for drug crimes and not always from small amounts.

The action brings the number of commutations by Mr. Obama to 562, more than the previous nine presidents combined, from John F. Kennedy onward. It’s coupled with his push to reform federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes.

White House counsel Neil Eggleston said the president isn’t nearly finished, with more than five months remaining in office. “I expect the president will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion,” he said.

All of the individuals who received commutations Wednesday were jailed “under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” Mr. Eggleston said.

The president is increasing his rate of commutations and pardons in his final year in office; it was his fourth set of clemency grants since March 30.

Some of the inmates were convicted of offenses involving large amounts of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or the manufacture of methamphetamines. For example, Ralph Casas of North Miami Beach, Florida, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 for conspiracy to distribute 9,445 kilograms of cocaine — more than 10 tons.

Ramon Gonzalez of San Juan, Texas, was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for conspiracy to possess and distribute 4,506 kilograms of marijuana, or almost five tons.

Others were convicted of crimes involving firearms, in addition to their drug offenses. Patrick Brown of Alexandria, Virginia, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, as well as possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

More than 36,000 federal prisoners have requested volunteer legal advisers to help them prepare clemency requests, and the Clemency Project 2014 said more than 1,500 petitions have been submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, with more to come.

“Today’s action will bring hope to so many worthy individuals and their incredible and heroic pro bono attorneys from across the country awaiting a decision by the president on their clemency petition,” said Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said the move “is yet another step in the administration’s efforts to restore proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences.”

“In just the first eight months of 2016, the president has more than doubled the number of commutations granted in all of 2015,” she said. “But we are not done yet, and we expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative.”

The president’s action comes amid simmering tensions in the U.S. over policing in minority communities and assassinations of police officers. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to restore “law and order.”

Mr. Eggleston said the administration evaluates each clemency application on its merits to determine the appropriate relief, including whether the prisoner would be helped by additional drug treatment, counseling or educational programs.

He called on Congress to pass pending criminal justice reform legislation for “lasting change to the federal system.”

Most of those receiving commutations will be released Dec. 1.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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