President Obama appears ready to make history by commuting sentences for nearly 80 federal prisoners this month—more than any president has in decades, the New York Times reports. His expected clemency will free prisoners put away on non-violent drug charges, and reflects a bigger effort by the Obama administration to ease sentences that Republicans and Democrats alike say are too harsh. The problem is that 30,000 criminals responded to the administration's offer for clemency, creating a ton of red tape and triggering fears that he might release a violent criminal. "I think they honestly want to address some of the people who have been oversentenced in the last 30 years," says an activist. "I’m not sure they envisioned that it would be as complicated as it is."
Lawmakers across the political spectrum have been working together on legislation to change sentencing, and more than 9,500 drug offenders (mostly black and Hispanic) have seen their sentences reduced. But with federal elections closing in, the White House is urging Justice officials to hurry up with forwarding clemency applications and not eliminate the borderline ones. Meanwhile, a consortium of lawyers called the Clemency Project is helping inmates apply and says it has streamlined the process, USA Today reports. Obama, who has already reduced 43 sentences, tells the Huffington Post that he will use his "pardon power and clemency power more aggressively for people who meet the criteria—non-violent crimes, have served already a long period of time, have shown that they're rehabilitated."