21 People Found Out Today They Won't Die In Prison

Obama granted clemency to 61 people on Wednesday -- but his pardon rate is far lower than what advocates hoped for.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 61 people serving time for drug offenses Wednesday, including 21 federal inmates who found out today that they will not die behind bars.

The White House made the announcement shortly before Obama was scheduled to meet with several former federal inmates who had been granted clemency previously.

Obama granted clemency to 95 individuals in December. With Wednesday's announcement, Obama's total is now up to 248, including 91 people who had been given life sentences. The federal prisoners who had their sentences shortened on Wednesday will now be released around July 28, while those who were serving life sentences will be released in one year.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the announcement “demonstrates his commitment to ensuring a fair and just criminal justice system," calling the clemency initiative "an important part of the Department’s overall criminal justice reform efforts."

But the clemency initiative that began in 2014 has run into problems, and the number of prisoners who have been granted clemency so far is much less than advocates had anticipated. Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff, who was in charge of making recommendations to the president about which cases deserved intervention, resigned earlier this year. In her resignation letter obtained by USA Today, Leff wrote that had been asked to address the petitions of nearly 10,000 individuals with too few attorneys and support staffers.

"[G]iven that the department has not fulfilled its commitment to provide the resources necessary for my office to make timely and thoughtful recommendations on clemency to the president, given your statement that the needed staff will not be forthcoming, and given that I have been instructed to set aside thousands of petitions for pardon and traditional commutation, I cannot fulfill my responsibilities as pardon attorney," Leff wrote.