In presidential tradition President Obama granted clemency to more than 95 federal prisoners on Friday and issuing pardons to two other prisoners. This marks the largest single-day grant of clemency of Obama’s presidency. He has commuted more prison sentences than any president since Lyndon Johnson and more than those issued by Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush combined. The commutations are for those with drug offenses. The two pardons deal with counterfeiting and bank fraud. President Obama’s list included more than three dozen people serving life sentences.
The constitution gives the president the power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.” A pardons is the complete removal of all punishment for a crime; a commutation shortens a prison sentence but often continues to impose other conditions. The president’s power is limited to federal offenses; most states give governors a similar power over state crimes. The move comes as Mr. Obama is pressing for a rewrite of criminal justice laws that would reverse a decades-long trend of steep penalties for nonviolent offenses that has swelled the nation’s prison population, disproportionately impacting African-American and Hispanic men.
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