President Barack Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.
The president cast the decision as part of a push to reform the criminal justice system. Had they been convicted of the same crimes today, most of the 46 would already be out of prison, the White House said. Fourteen were serving life sentences.
“These men and women were not hard criminals,” Obama said in a video message. “Their punishment did not fit the crime.”
He added: “I believe at its heart America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Obama plans to address criminal justice reform in a speech Tuesday to the NAACP in Philadelphia. On Thursday, he will visit a federal prison in Oklahoma, the first such visit by a sitting president.
The announcement brought the number of commutations issued by Obama to almost 90, mostly for nonviolent drug crimes, the White House said.
Obama wrote each of the 46 a personal letter to relay his decision.
To Jerry Allen Bailey, serving 30 years for conspiracy to violate drug laws in North Carolina, a crack cocaine case, the president wrote: “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”