President Obama announced the early release of 72 more nonviolent federal prisoners on Friday, bringing the already record-breaking number of commutations that have happened on his watch to nearly 1,000.
"With today’s grants, the President has now commuted the sentences of 944 individuals, including 324 life sentences," White House spokesman Neil Eggleston said in a statement.
That 944 figure is more than the past 11 presidents combined and represents yet another attempt by Obama — in his final months in office — to ease the pain of low-level offenders who were hit with decades-long sentences during the war-on-drugs era.
"The President is committed to reinvigorating the clemency authority, demonstrating that our nation is a nation of second chances, where mistakes from the past will not deprive deserving individuals of the opportunity to rejoin society and contribute to their families and communities," Eggleston said.
Most of the prisoners on the list will be sprung starting in March of next year, according to the White House list.
But one of them, Mandy Martinson, could be home in Mason City, Iowa in time for Christmas.
Martison was hit with a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison after she was convicted of drug possession and illegal gun possession. Both were found in a duffle bag stashed inside the house she shared with a drug dealer who then testified against her at trial, according to the Families Against Mandatory Minimums organization.
FAMM general counsel Mary Price, which has helped recruit lawyers for Obama's clemency initiative, said they anticipate more prisoners will get early releases before the president leaves office.
“Our understanding is they are going to work up to the last minute on this issue,” said Price. “They certainly have picked up the pace.”
Nearly half-million people estimated to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails on drug offenses today.
Price said that Obama’s move falls short of the sentencing reform they have been seeking, “but the message the president is sending is that there are still too many people serving sentences that are unjust.”
“The long term solution still lies with our lawmakers,” Price said.
A little over two years ago, prisoners began applying in droves after Obama unveiled a new initiative to free drug offenders who were sentenced to prison before the notoriously harsh mandatory minimum laws were eased in 2010.
Working with the nation’s bar associations, the Obama administration recruited thousands of lawyers for the Clemency Project 2014. Their job is to screen application before they were submitted to the Office of Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice.
More than 11,000 prisoners have applied and are awaiting word of their fates, according to the Justice Department.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have indicated whether they would continue Obama’s initiative.