President Obama has granted 70 pardons (4 conditional) and 187 commutations of sentence (6 conditional). The figure for pardons is lowest for any full term president since the administration of John Adams (1797 to 1801). The figure for commutations is better than most recent presidents, who were both notoriously neglectful of the pardon power and received far fewer applications (see second chart, below). 150 of President Obama's 257 total grants (or 58 percent) have been granted in a single month alone, December.Recently, the Pardon Attorney at USDOJ issued a letter of resignation. Reported USA Today, "Her resignation letter suggests a broken and bureaucratic process at odds with President Obama's own aim to exercise his pardon power "more aggressively" in the final months of his presidency." Moreover, reported the paper, her office is swamped with insufficient resources to do its job:
Since the administration announced the initiative in 2014, applications for clemency have exploded. There are now 10,073 clemency cases pending — three times as many as in 2013. And that doesn't count thousands more cases seeking free legal help through the Clemency Project, an outside consortium set up to assist with the initiative.That said, here in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott's stinginess on clemency compares unfavorably even with the president's parsimonious record, as well as Rick Perry's before him. For the most part, whether presidents or governors, the executive branch in 21st century American democracy remains mostly immune, seemingly, even to valid, individual pleas for mercy, much less calls to use clemency to directly confront the ills of mass incarceration.
When he announced the initiative in April 2014, then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole said the department had "pledged to provide the necessary resources to fulfill this goal expeditiously." While the administration didn't set a target for the number of cases, former Attorney General Eric Holder told the Washington Post last year that he had hoped that as many as 10,000 people could have their sentences reduced under the program. So far, Obama has granted less than 2% of those.