Making use of his executive power while he still has the chance, President Obama commuted 231 prisoners' sentences Monday, bringing his total number of clemency recipients while in office up to 1,324. Although he hardly needed it, the clemency initiative is another milestone of Obama's legacy in office — his number of pardons and commutations broke the one-day record and now exceeds the past 11 presidents' clemencies combined.
The quantity and timing of Obama's clemency action wasn't a coincidence — criminal justice reform advocates have been urging him to act in what they claim is a race against time. Donald Trump's aggressive "crime and punishment" rhetoric could possibly accompany a huge decrease in presidential pardons, leading President Obama to take bold steps to address these cases before he leaves office.
Even with the record-breaking number of clemencies Monday, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston stated in a blog post that this likely won't be the last time President Obama utilizes his clemency powers before Jan. 20. According to Department of Justice statistics, there are 1,937 pardon petitions and 13,042 commutation petitions still pending for President Obama to review. While it's incredibly unlikely that all will be granted before President Obama leaves office, he could still significantly break his own record and give people the chance to live meaningful post-incarceration lives.
Obama's clemency movement is a symbol of the compassionate ideology that drives many modern liberals. These commutations and pardons acknowledge an inherent flaw in the national criminal justice system and seek to correct that injustice, even if the incarcerations followed the strict letter of the law. Rehabilitation, not mere incarceration, is a goal of punishment, and for prison to have a true purpose, it should give people the opportunity to return to society when appropriate, as in the case of the non-violent drug offenders President Obama pardoned Monday.
As Eggleston wrote in his blog post, "[these] acts of clemency... exemplify [Obama's] belief that America is a nation of second chances," not one that leaves its citizens to waste away their lives locked up.
President Obama's commitment to criminal justice reform is just one of the reasons he will leave a legacy of a beloved and progressive president. Dozens of people will go home and be with their families for the holidays instead of spending another year in prison, and that exemplifies the true spirit of the presidency — doing what's best and most fair for all Americans.