President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 214 individuals on Wednesday, the most grants of clemency in a single day since at least 1900, the White House said. Yet he still insists on keeping the Native American activist and political prisoner Leonard Peltier behind bars.
Peltier was a leading figure within the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a militant group championing Native American autonomy and culture, during its peak in political activity in the 1970s. He has spent four decades in prison.
Obama has now granted a total of 562 commutations during his presidency. According to statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 11,861 clemency petitions pending as of June 6.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post Wednesday that Obama will continue granting clemency to more inmates throughout the final months of his presidency.
“Our work is far from finished. I expect the president will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion,” Eggleston added.
The presidential clemency power is seen by many advocates as a key tool in fighting mass incarceration.
The Justice Department launched a program in April 2014 to identify prisoners who are serving time for crimes they were sentenced for under laws that have since been changed to carry less severe punishments.
Currently, more than 30 states that have modified some of their mandatory sentencing laws, at least for minor, non-violent offenses, which were adopted during the U.S. crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.
However, the U.S. still observes the national "three-strikes-and-you're-out" law, which requires life sentences for people convicted of a violent felony after two or more previous convictions, including drug crimes.
Today, nearly half of all federal inmates are in prison for drug-related offenses.
The creation of new federal crimes, mandated life sentences, and the expansion of prisons led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black people
Black people in the United States are imprisoned at least five times more than whites across the country, according to a report, titled, “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons” carried out by the Washington-based nonprofit Sentencing Project.