Obama’s commutations, by the numbers

This round of presidential clemency grants was clearly aimed at racially discriminatory crack cocaine laws.

The Clemency Report analyzed President Obama’s 46 clemency grants to drug offenders on July 13.

What we found

A symbol of?

A symbol of?


  • Race. 37 prisoners were black, 8 were white (non-Hispanic), 1 was white Hispanic.
  • Gender. 42 men, 4 women. Three women were black, one was white.
  • Age. The average age was 49.1. Blacks averaged 47.3 years old; whites were 56.4.
  • Crack. 37 were crack cocaine offenders: 36 black (33 male, 3 female) and one white woman.
  • Other drugs. Two were marijuana-only offenders. Five were for powder cocaine. One was for meth. Ten had an another drug involved, in addition to the primary one.


  •  South: Of the blacks, 78% — 29 of the 37 — had been prosecuted in former Confederate states. (Of the whites, only 37% — three of eight — had.) All 12 blacks serving life without parole sentences had been prosecuted being served. Of the 12 blacks serving life without parole, all had been prosecuted in Southern states, as had a 13th who got his sentence reduced in February. The only Hispanic among the 46 commutations was also a Southern prosecution, from Florida. (The only non-Southern life sentence was given to a white cocaine dealer from Milwaukee.)
  • Midwest. Six of the remaining eight prosecutions of African Americans were from Midwestern states: Missouri (2), plus Iowa, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Four of the eight non-Hispanic whites were Midwestern prosecutions.
  • East. Two of the black prisoners receiving commutations were Eastern prosecutions: Delaware, Maryland.
  • Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 12.28.26 PM
    West:  No offenders — black or white — were from the West Coast. Only one offender — a white prosecuted for marijuana in New Mexico —  was from any of the 11 Western states.

Sentence change

  • Life sentences. 14 had been sentenced to life without parole, and 13 were still serving life, one having received an earlier reduction.
  • Douglas, Army veteran who worked with handicapped kids, given life sentence for crack in South Carolina..

    Douglas Lindsay, Army vet worked with handicapped kids, got life for crack in South Carolina.

    Crack lifers. 11, all black males, as was crack lifer who got sentenced reduced in court.

  • Other lifers. Two for powder cocaine — one black, one white.
  • Time served. The 46 prisoners had been behind bars for an average of 15.7 years. Those serving life had been locked up an average of 19.7 years. Those serving fixed terms had been behind bars an average of 14.2 years.
  • Time commuted. Sentences were shortened by an average of 9.2 years.
  • Time commuted, by sentence. Lifers got an extra 23.4 years of freedom (a 53% average sentence reduction), assuming they live to their life expectancy. Those with fixed sentences averaged a 4.8 year sentence reduction (a 25% average).
  • Time commuted, by race. Blacks received a 15.8 year average reduction, or 50% cut. Whites had an average 6.99 year reduction, or a 41% sentence cut. (These numbers largely reflect longer sentences, especially life terms, given to blacks for crack cocaine.)

What a difference a sentence commutation can make for an 84-year-old black man from the South!

james marion stockton before

Crack offender: Before clemency

Crack offender: After clemency

Crack offender: After clemency

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