Executive Branch

Despite Holder's call for clemency to free over 10,000, actual number so far is much lower

  • Print

Eric Holder

Eric Holder speaks at the 2013 ABA Annual Meeting. Photo by Tony Avelar.

Updated: In a 2013 speech delivered at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new “Smart on Crime” initiative and called for a number of changes to reduce “shameful” sentencing disparities that often affect drug offenders.

Among the measures he suggested was clemency.

Yet an option that Holder initially said could release as many as 10,000 of the more than 200,000 prisoners incarcerated in the federal system, at the stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen, has fallen far short of that projection, the Washington Post (reg. req.) reports in a lengthy article.

This year, Obama has granted 89 clemency petitions so far and is expected to sign off on another 100. Meanwhile, more than 9,000 petitions are at the Department of Justice awaiting government approval, some of which were submitted by volunteers from the American Bar Association and other lawyer groups that are a part of Clemency Project 2014, the Post reports.

“There’s no question that the president is frustrated with the numbers of people who have been sent to him,” Holder recently told the Post.

Some advocates for criminal justice reform, however, are pointing the finger at Obama.

“Given the president’s repeated concern about the numbers of people in prison serving excessive sentences, he has done little to alleviate the problem through clemency,” Julie Stewart, who heads Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told the Post. “The president has all the constitutional authority he needs to do the right thing. Failure here cannot be blamed on partisanship in Congress. If the president wants to correct past injustices, he can.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Obama seeks low-level offenders for possible clemency”

ABAJournal.com: “ABA, other legal organizations call for more volunteers for Clemency Project 2014”

ABA Journal: “Clemency Project 2014 is out to help prisoners doing excessive time due to inflexible sentencing”

ABA Journal: “Attorney General Holder says sentencing based on predictive data discriminates”

Updated to clarify that some of the 9,000 pending petitions were submitted by ABA volunteers and Clemency Project 2014.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.