Being granted clemency from the president is a dream come true for many inmates in federal prison for drug-related crimes.
Arnold Ray Jones, who was convicted for drug trafficking, was one of the lucky ones. This summer, Jones was given clemency by President Barack Obama that would have allowed him out of jail in two years, instead of the six left in his sentence.
But Jones refused.
That’s because along with the promise of a shorter sentence comes a condition: Drug offenders offered commuted sentences must enroll in a residential drug treatment program. Jones’ record shows that previous treatment programs were unsuccessful at kicking his crack cocaine addiction.
Obama has made a treatment program a condition on 92 of the 775 commutations he has granted. The 214 commutations he granted on August 3, when Jones was given one, are the most by any president ever on one day. That class was the first for which Obama attached the condition of a drug treatment program and since then, 22 percent of commutations have required it.
Commutations are not pardons, so jail time can be shortened while leaving other punishments in place. In 2014, Obama directed the Department of Justice to prioritize commutation requests from non-violent drug offenders who were serving sentences longer than those they’d be given were they convicted of the same crime today.
“For some, the president believes that the applicant’s successful re-entry will be aided with additional drug treatment, and the president has conditioned those commutations on an applicant’s seeking that treatment,” wrote Obama’s counsel Neil Eggleston in a White House blog post following the August 3 commutations. “Underlying all the president’s commutation decisions is the belief that these deserving individuals should be given the tools to succeed in their second chance.”
According to USA Today, clemency offered by the president to an inmate has only been rejected 16 times since President George Washington.