U.S. President Barack Obama made history on 3 August 2016, when he shortened the sentences of a record 214 prisoners. It is the largest number of commutations in a single day in at least a century, according to a White House announcement:
To date, President Obama has granted 562 commutations: more commutations than the previous nine presidents combined and more commutations than any individual president in nearly a century. Of those, 197 individuals were serving life sentences. And, today’s 214 grants of commutation also represent the most grants in a single day since at least 1900. That being said, our work is far from finished. I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.
Most of the individuals were serving sentences for drug-related and nonviolent offenses. It is part of a larger effort by President Obama and the Department of Justice to reverse years of imprisoning people for even minor offenses in the name of cracking down on crime. In 2015, the Washington Post pointed out that reducing prison overcrowding has become a bipartisan issue:
Like Mr. Obama, Republicans running for his job are calling for systemic changes. Lawmakers from both parties are collaborating on legislation. And the United States Sentencing Commission has revised guidelines for drug offenders, so far retroactively reducing sentences for more than 9,500 inmates, nearly three-quarters of them black or Hispanic.
The drive to recalibrate the system has brought together groups from across the political spectrum. The Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy organization with close ties to the White House and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, has teamed up with Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, who finance Republican candidates, to press for reducing prison populations and overhauling sentencing.
The White House has reaffirmed its call for legislation in order to bring about lasting change to the American criminal justice system.