President Obama Just Gave 35 Prisoners Serving Life Sentences A Second Chance

by John Haltiwanger

President Obama believes America is a nation of second chances, which is why he just commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates -- including 35 individuals serving life sentences.

In August alone, the president commuted the sentences of 325 prisoners. Out of the 673 commutations President Obama has granted, 232 were for individuals serving life sentences.

He's now commuted more sentences than the last 10 presidents combined.

In a blog post related to these developments, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote,

We must remember that these are individuals -- sons, daughters, parents, and in many cases, grandparents -- who have taken steps toward rehabilitation and who have earned their second chance. They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today. For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance. While I expect that the President will continue to grant commutations through the end of this administration, the individualized nature of this relief highlights the need for bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, including reforms that address excessive mandatory minimum sentences. Only the passage of legislation can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure our federal sentencing system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.

America's criminal justice system is deeply flawed, particularly in relation to excessively harsh sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

This is a large part of the reason the president has embraced commutations -- he wanted to make an effort to address the detrimental impact the war on drugs has had in communities across the US.

Back in May, the president wrote,

While I will continue to review clemency applications, only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing. That is why I am encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in Congress to reform federal sentencing laws, particularly on overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Because it just doesn't make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison. An excessive punishment like that doesn't fit the crime. It's not serving taxpayers, and it's not making us safer. As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities. It's the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. And it's something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. If we have any hope of reducing this trend, we need to not only champion criminal justice reform, but also change our perceptions of inmates and ex-offenders.

In other words, as President Obama has done, we need to come together as a society and recognize the value and importance of second chances.