President Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 348 American prisoners since ascending to power in January 2009. But the figure only makes sense perhaps when one considers the fact that it surpasses the total number of all prisoners who received clemency by all seven past presidents of the United States.
Although some might look at Obama’s gesture as one of those extremely liberalist tendencies, the US president described the pardons as insufficient in addressing injustices rooted in America’s judicial system.
The White House says that America’s criminal justice system is outdated and as a result, thousands of men and women in federal prisons are serving sentences longer than necessary. Part of America’s archaic justice system are provisions for overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences.
As a result, Obama has pleaded with the two houses of US Parliament – the Senate and the House of Representatives – to work together to bring a bill that will reform America’s criminal justice system.
Obama made the remarks on June 3, 2016 after announcing pardons for 42 men and women serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws.
He said the pardons were deserved because the beneficiaries have more than repaid their debt to society hence earning the second chance.
Obama further justified the option of giving prisoners a second chance by stating that some of them had realized their mistakes but also that they had reformed by taking proactive steps to towards making their lives and the lives of those better.
Below are remarks Obama gave on May 5, 2016 before he announced 58 pardons.
“Earlier this spring, I met with a group of individuals whose sentences were commuted either by President Bush, President Clinton, or myself. They were all at different stages of a new chapter in their lives, but each of their stories was extraordinary.
“Take Phillip Emmert. When he was 27, Phillip made a mistake. He was arrested and convicted for distributing methamphetamines and received a 27-year sentence. So, by the time he was released, he’d have spent half his life behind bars.
“Unfortunately, while in prison, his wife was paralyzed in an accident. So while he was in prison, Phil learned everything he could about fixing heating and air conditioning systems — so he could support his wife when he got out. And after his sentence was commuted by President Bush, he was able to do just that. Today, he’s gainfully employed. He’s a caregiver for his wife, an active father, and a leader in his community.
“Like so many nonviolent offenders serving unduly harsh sentences, Phillip is not a hardened criminal. He’s taken responsibility for his mistakes. And he’s worked hard to earn a second chance.
The White House report noted that Obama remains committed to issuing more pardons through the remainder of his term.
The US president hailed the power of pardon bestowed into the presidency, as a tenet of democracy and that people deserve second chances.
“The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni last made such a gesture in June 2009 when he pardon former UPC minister Chris Rwakasisi who was facing death by the time of his pardon.