President Obama ordered the early release of another 111 federal prisoners Tuesday, adding to the record-breaking pace he has set during the final year of his presidency.
Obama earlier this month set the single-day record for commutations, shortening the prison terms of 214 inmates. With Thursday’s additions, he now has granted 673 commutations — more than the past 10 presidents combined.
“It just seems that the list of people benefiting from clemency keeps getting worse and worse.”
The latest group includes 16 convicted on firearms charges in addition to drug violations on their records.
Steve Cook, president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, said the criminal charges of the clemency recipients offer more evidence that Obama is violating his own criteria of releasing low-level nonviolent drug offenders with insignificant criminal histories.
“It just seems that the list of people benefiting from clemency keeps getting worse and worse,” he said.
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Five prisoners getting breaks are serving time for participating in a continuing criminal enterprise, “which in plain language is the kingpin statute,” Cook said.
Cook noted that a dozen of the prisoners were convicted of using a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime. That does not necessarily mean they fired a weapon — it could mean that they merely displayed a gun as a means of intimidation.
“I don’t think most members of the public would think of that as nonviolent, low-level offenders,” he said.
Another prisoner was convicted of conspiring to sell more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, crack and marijuana; and possession of a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a drug felony. Cook said that means he used a sawed-off shotgun to protect his drug business.
“A sawed-off shotgun is intended to do only one of two things — to kill people and intimidate people,” he said. “They’re not good for hunting. They’re among the most scary weapons that law enforcement and others can face on the streets.”
Cook said it is a particularly ironic that one felon is getting a break given his hometown, Chicago, is in the midst of its worst epidemic of violence in two decades. According to court records, the felon participated in a cocaine ring centered on Chicago and Minnesota beginning in 1988. He obtained drugs from a higher-up source and then “fronted” drugs in amounts ranging from 1 to 5 kilograms a week.
“That’s just what they need in Chicago right now, another high-level offender released into their community,” Cook said.