STATE OF AFFAIRS: President Obama Grants More Commutations than Any President in U.S. History
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 19, 2017) – In one of the last acts of his Administration, President Obama has now granted more commutations than any President in the history of the United States. Tuesday’s 209 grants brings the total to 1,385 individuals. Of those grants, 191 of the commutations and 29 of the pardons were drug offenses. “We need to stop treating addicts who suffer with addiction as people who willfully disregard the law, but as very sick people doing desperate things because of their addiction,” says Vertava Health Chief Clinical Officer Toril Newman. “No one plans to grow up and live the life of addiction and the quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, desperation that an addict lives through each day.” President Obama’s 1,385 commutation grants, which include 504 life sentences, are more than the total number of commutations issued by the past 12 Presidents combined. With Tuesday’s 64 pardons, the President has now granted a total of 212. “If we can pay the high cost of jail, we can pay for treatment and the chance of a better life,” says Newman, as 103 of the individuals commuted or pardoned are required to enter a residential addiction treatment facility. The estimated cost for housing one inmate is between $30,000-$60,000 annually. Addiction treatment can be provided at a fraction of the cost. Now that the inmates are being released, it raises questions about the mechanisms in place, or lack thereof, to hold them accountable to go and complete treatment. If you have a drug dealer released and there is no system to hold them accountable and they have no means of getting treatment, could it potentially make our problem worse? Technically, they now have no job, no money and no insurance, yet are expected to pay for treatment. “It’s a commendable move on the Administration’s part to commute non-violent offenses for some offenders and requiring they attend residential treatment as a condition,” says Northeast Regional Market Director Andrew McKenna. “But, it now raises the question as to what the quality of the programs they’ll be able to get into is without reasonable, decent insurance.” Many say it is imperative that Congress now exercise their power of the purse to offer vouchers or reimbursement fees to these former inmates to attend treatment. Only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.