Obama commutes sentences for 111 more federal prisoners

The Obama administration has tried to ramp up relief for nonviolent felons hit by decades-old sentencing requirements.
President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal prisoners on Tuesday, bringing his total to 673 as the administration tries to ramp up relief for nonviolent felons hit by decades-old sentencing requirements.

Obama has granted 235 commutations in August alone, more than any other president in a single month, and he has granted more clemencies than the previous 10 presidents combined.

The Justice Department announced a sweeping effort in 2014 to adjust the sentences for people swept up by mandatory minimums that are now widely viewed as draconian and unjust, especially for nonviolent crimes. But while it was initially intended to grant relief to low-level drug offenders, people convicted of deeper roles in drug-dealing operations are also starting to benefit. That means that while Obama is shortening their sentences, their new terms still stretch, in some cases, into the next decade or two — long after Obama leaves office.

Take Alfonso Allen. He was convicted in 2009 of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of “cocaine base” (likely referring to crack cocaine), as well as other drug offenses and gun possession charges. According to a 2011 appeal, Allen was a “lieutenant” in a Miami drug operation who managed several sellers.

His original sentence: life in prison, plus 10 years of supervised release.

On Tuesday, Obama commuted Allen’s sentence to 30 years. Depending on how much time Allen spent in prison between his 2005 arrest and his conviction, he could be released between 2035 and 2039.

The White House did not directly address details of Allen’s case. But in the past White House Counsel Neil Eggleston has described other nuances in the commutations, including requirements for drug treatment programs and other wide variations in the length of new sentences, as a reflection of the president’s “belief that these deserving individuals should be given the tools to succeed in their second chance.”

On Tuesday, in a blog post, Eggleston said the “individualized nature of this relief highlights the need for bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, including reforms that address excessive mandatory minimum sentences.”

Eggleston wrote that Obama is committed to granting more commutations but called on Congress to pass broader legislation. The House is expected to take up sentencing reform measures in September.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates also called on Congress to come up with a “lasting solution,” but said that in the meantime, the administration will continue ramping up its efforts to provide relief.

“With today's announcement, the President has given a second chance to over 300 individuals in the month of August and we expect many more men and women will receive that same opportunity in the months to come,” Yates said.