Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama set the record for executive clemency on Monday after granting 231 pardons and commutations to federal prisoners on Monday, the vast majority of whom were or had been convicted of drug-related crimes.Alltogether, the president reduced the sentences of 153 federal inmates bringing the total number of sentences he’s reduced since he took office in 2009 to 1,176 — including 395 serving life sentences.
The president also granted pardons to 78 individuals, bringing his total number of pardons to 148. For those who have been released, a presidential pardon comes with the restoration of certain rights restored and a formal forgiveness for the crime(s) they committed.
Monday’s move should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the actions of outgoing presidents, and for Obama — whose administration has highly-prioritized prison and sentencing reform — waves of clemency have become a routine occurrence.In a blog post released shortly after the announcement, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston continued to push those themes, saying that recent action shows the president’s “commitment to his clemency authority” and adding he expects Obama to grant more “commutations and pardons before he leaves office.”
Currently, the number of federal inmates with pending requests for clemency is lengthy, with 13,042 seeking commutations and another 1,937 having applied for executive pardons through the Department of Justice.
“The mercy that the President has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients is remarkable, but we must remember that clemency is a tool of last resort,” Eggleston wrote. “Only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.”
Local effects of Monday’s clemency
As some of Obama’s past actions on clemency have, the recent commutations will affect at least three current prisoners from the local area.One of those commutations went to Jamael Aaron Nettles, 29 of Mobile, who was convicted of possession of marijuana and trafficking cocaine and handed down a 30-year prison sentence in 2006. With the stroke of pen, Obama changed Nettles’scheduled release in 2042 up to April of next year.
Lawrence Maurice Powe is another Mobile resident serving time for federal drug convictions that received “mercy” from the president earlier this week. In 1992, Powe was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his involved in a conspiracy to distribute schedule II controlled substances and two counts related to his use of a firearm in a drug crime.
Originally Powe wouldn’t have left prison until 2032, but with Obama’s commutation, he’ll be scheduled for release at the end of 2018. Due to his charges he was required to pay or forfeit close to $1 million, but the commutation also remitted any remaining unpaid balance of those fines if Powe agrees to enter a drug treatment program upon his release.
A Saraland man also saw the sentence for his drug crime reduced this week. In 2007, Cecil Ray Frye was sent to prison for 45 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and two counts of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking felony.
Frye’s prison sentence was commuted to just 17 years with enrollment in a residential drug treatment program upon release — reducing his total time served by more than 50 percent.