Obama Unveils Huge Clemency Initiative Amid Criticism For Stingy Pardon Record

April 23, 2014 11:00 a.m.

The Obama administration unveiled a major new clemency initiative Wednesday for hundreds — possibly thousands — of non-violent drug offenders who are serving longer prison sentences than they would if convicted today.

“We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates, candidates who have a clean prison record, do not present a threat to public safety, and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed, and are no longer seen as appropriate,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said at a press conference. “While those sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act may be the most obvious candidates, this initiative is not limited to crack offenders.”

Here are the six criteria that offenders need to meet in order to be eligible, as outlined by Cole.

“They must be (1) inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; (2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; (3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence; (4) do not have a significant criminal history; (5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.”

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Cole said the DOJ will notify all federal inmates of the new initiative and dedicate “significant time and resources” to identifying candidates within the large U.S. prison population. He said prospective candidates will be provided an electronic survey by the Bureau of Prisons which will be screened by DOJ lawyers before it’s processed further.

The new initiative comes in response to criticisms that President Barack Obama has been very stingy with pardons, granting clemency to inmates at a much slower pace than his predecessors.

“Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019,” a Pro Publica investigation found late 2012. “He has given pardons to roughly 1 of every 50 individuals whose applications were processed by the Justice Department. At this point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 1 of every 3 such applicants. George H.W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 16. Bill Clinton had pardoned 1 in 8. George W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 33.”

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