Obama commutes 61 prison sentences

Posted at 2:53 PM, Mar 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 14:54:46-04

(CNN) — President Barack Obama is commuting the prison sentences of 61 people who were serving time for drug offenses, the White House announced Wednesday.

Obama will also meet Wednesday with formerly incarcerated individuals who have received commutations, the administration said in its announcement.

“Underscoring his commitment not just to clemency, but to helping those who earn their freedom make the most of their second chance, the President will meet today with commutation recipients from both his Administration and the previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a White House blog post.

More than one-third of the 61 individuals who had their sentences commuted were serving life sentences, according to Eggleston.

“During the meeting, the commutation recipients will discuss their first-hand experiences with the reentry process and ways that the process can be strengthened to give every individual the resources he or she needs to transition from prison and lead a fulfilling, productive life,” he said.

Obama has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals, more men than the past six presidents combined, according to the White House.

Brittany K. Byrd, who has represented clients who had their sentences commuted by Obama in the past, said Wednesday’s announcement is a sign Obama “is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system.”

“I am hopeful the President will continue to mercifully grant clemency to the hundreds of others who deserve relief, like Corey Jacobs, who is serving his 16th year of a life sentence as a first-time non-violent drug offender,” Byrd said in a statement. “Life in federal prison is a fundamental death sentence. Requiring hundreds of people like Corey Jacobs to die in prison for non-violent drug offenses is an utter waste of human life and taxpayer dollars.”

She continued, “Progress was made today, but there is definitely a lot more work to do.”

On Tuesday, Obama spoke at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, moderated by CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.

Obama said he wasn’t sure what it was that tipped his life away from addiction. “I wasn’t always as responsible as I am today. In many ways I was lucky, because for whatever reason addiction didn’t get it’s claws on me … except cigarettes,” he said.

“Regardless how individuals get into these situations, we don’t know everything. There may be genetic components. Addictions may be different for different people,” he said.

“What we do know is there are steps that can be taken to get through addiction and get to the other side, and that is under-resourced.”