The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Obama’s Commutations Did Not End Mass Incarceration

Jan 23, 2017

In his final days in office, President Obama commuted many hundreds of sentences of prisoners, finishing with more than any of his predecessors with a total of 1715 commutations in all. More than 98 percent of the sentences were for drug offenses. He made a show of commuting the sentences of many people, particularly black individuals, given disproportionately long prison sentences compared with other drug offenders.

Despite these commutations, the incarceration rate in the U.S. remains the highest in the world, the result of policies which led to the rounding up of young men with no jobs, for whom the underground economy provided their only hope for employment. And the laws which resulted in these unfair sentences were put in place during the administration of a Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton.

While Obama commuted a record number of sentences, he granted fewer pardons than any modern president except George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. And he refused to pardon political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, consistent fighters for the rights of black, Native American and other oppressed people.

In the end, Obama was no real foe to the policy of mass imprisonment affecting the lives of working people, especially the black population.