President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on March 30, 2015, in Boston.
Photo by Susan Walsh/AP

President Obama commutes prison sentences of 22 drug offenders


President Obama has long been criticized for his stingy use of his pardon and commutation power. But on Tuesday, Obama commuted the sentences of 22 people serving time in federal prison, doubling the total number of people he has commuted since taking office in 2008. Those whose sentences were commuted were serving sentences “under an outdated sentencing regime,” according to a White House statement.

Nearly all of the people granted commutations were serving long prison terms for non-violent drug offenses. If sentenced under current guidelines, many of them would have already been released.

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Until Tuesday, Obama had issued 21 commutations and 64 pardons over the course of his presidency. And while he has been widely criticized in the past for not using his powers more aggressively to free people who were sentenced under what many believe are unfair sentencing laws implemented during the hysteria of the crack-era, the administration pointed out that Obama has been far more aggressive than his predecessor. During his eight years in office, the administration said, President George W. Bush commuted just 11 sentences.

President Obama wrote a letter to each of the people he commuted.

In a letter to one of the commuted inmates, Terry Andre Barnes, who was serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, Obama wrote of the tremendous power of commutation, saying it embodies “the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance” after making a mistake in life.

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Thousands have applied for commutation but just a fraction of the applications are approved, the president said.

I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around,” Obama wrote. “Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”

In a recent interview with David Simon, the creator of the hit HBO series “The Wire,” which chronicled life in a city ravaged by drugs and the failed war against them, Obama said the massive trend towards incarceration led to generations of people ripped from their homes and communities. “You’ve got entire generations of men being locked up, which means entire generations of boys growing up either without a father, or if they see their dad, they’re seeing them in prison,” Obama said. The costs, Obama said, are steep in a fiscal sense but also a societal one.

“Well, here’s the good news. There is an increasing realization on the left, but also on the right politically, that what we’re doing is counterproductive,” Obama said. “We’re all responsible for at least a solution to this.”

Just last week, a bipartisan group of politicians, policy makers and advocates came together to discuss ways to ease the burdens of mass incarceration and push for continued sentencing reforms to reverse the damage done by decades-old mandatory-minimum laws that filled America’s prisons with mostly non-violent offenders. And the administration, through a number of executive actions and updated sentencing guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder, has become more aggressive in the last year or so at addressing those deep disparities.

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“To further this progress, the President has established a clemency initiative to encourage individuals who were sentenced under outdated laws and policies to petition for commutation,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote shortly after the president’s commutations were announced. At the president’s direction, “significant reforms have followed, such as the promulgation of new criteria for potential commutation candidates to meet, including those who pose no threat to public safety, have a clean record in prison, and have been sentenced under out-of-date laws.”

Each of the sentences commuted on Tuesday will expire on July 28, 2015. See the full list below:

  1. Terry Andre Barnes (East Moline, Illinois). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; supervised release violation (distribution of cocaine).
  2. Theresa Brown (Pompano Beach, Florida). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.
  3. Donel Marcus Clark (Dallas, Texas). Offense: Conspiracy; use of a communication facility (five counts); distribution and/or possession of cocaine or manufacturing in or near a school facility, aiding and abetting.
  4. Ricky Bernard Coggins (Tallahassee, Florida). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base.
  5. Samuel Pasqual Edmondson (Junction City, Kansas). Offense: Conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
  6. Amado Garcia (Fresno, California). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of heroin.
  7. Dwight Anthony Goddard (Decatur, Georgia). Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base.
  8. Lionel Ray Hairston (Ridgeway, Virginia). Offense: Distribution of cocaine base (three counts).
  9. Francis Darrell Hayden (Loretto, Kentucky). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants or 1,000 or more kilograms of marijuana; manufacture of 1,000 or more marijuana plants.
  10. Harold Kenneth Herring (Havana, Florida). Offense: Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base.
  11. Tommie Lee Hollingshed (Memphis, Tennessee). Offense: Distribution of a controlled substance (two counts).
  12. Derrick DeWayne Johnson (Birmingham, Alabama). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine; possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Northern District of Alabama)
  13. Robert Martinez-Gil (San Antonio, Texas). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin.
  14. David Navejar (Brooksville, Florida). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine.
  15. Rudolph Norris (Washington, D.C.). Offense: Unlawful distribution of cocaine base; unlawful possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base.
  16. Tracy Lynn Petty (Shelby, North Carolina). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base.
  17. Luis Razo (Davenport, Iowa). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
  18. Antwon Rogers (Cleveland, Ohio). Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 139.8 grams of cocaine base.
  19. Herman Rosenboro (Kingsport, Tennessee). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine and over 50 grams of cocaine base; distribution of a quantity of cocaine base (two counts); distribution of a quantity of cocaine (two counts).
  20. Lawrence Elmo Scott (Lynchburg, Virginia). Offense: Distribution of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school.
  21. Levar V. Wade (Chicago, Illinois). Offense: Possession of 50 or more grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.
  22. Eugene Winters (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base.

Barack Obama, Prison and Sentencing Reform

President Obama commutes prison sentences of 22 drug offenders