In 2014, President Obama announced his intention to ‘‘restor[e] fundamental ideals of justice and fairness’’ to the criminal justice system by exercising his executive clemency power to commute sentences of those who had ‘‘already served their time and paid their debt to society.’’ Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) specified six criteria it would use to prioritize applications. The primary targets of these criteria were the casualties of the war on drugs: people sentenced to draconian sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, some of which involved less than a handful of narcotics. Most of these individuals had exhausted any available appeals years ago and resigned themselves to spending the majority or all of their lives in prison. With his 2014 announcement, President Obama unsettled their expectations and revived their long abandoned hope that they would leave prison while their parents were still alive, in time to see their children graduate from high school or college, or, as many conveyed, in anything other than a box.
Erin R. Collins, Clemency and the Administration of Hope, 29 Fed. Sent'g Rep. 263 (2017).