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Clemency Project Races To Prepare Thousands Of Applications For Review

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For more about today's commutations, I spoke to Cynthia Roseberry. She's project manager of Clemency Project 2014. They're a collection of lawyers who help solicit and review the petitions of more than 30,000 inmates and forward the eligible ones onto the White House. I asked her first to tell me about the typical recipient of Obama's commutations.

CYNTHIA ROSEBERRY: This would be the person who is poor, who is a person of color, who has gotten themselves involved in the drug trade who likely didn't trade a lot of drugs. But their third arrest and conviction, it occurred in federal court, and they were subject to draconian sentences, being considered a career offender, spending a minimum of 10 years and sometimes up to life in prison.

SIEGEL: Do you have a batting average on this? That is, of the thousands of applications you've seen, is there an obvious percent figure that you expect now that you'll get accepted?

ROSEBERRY: There's not. And part of the reason is because it's sort of why we're in this place in the first place because each person is so different. People are so desperate. We got applications from state inmates who of course the president couldn't grant clemency for. We got duplicates, and we got applications from someone who's served six months in prison. And of course the minimum time they have to have served is 10 years.

SIEGEL: To qualify for this program...

ROSEBERRY: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...For clemency, yeah.

ROSEBERRY: So when you factor those out and then look at the folks who don't have a violent history, then the numbers make a little bit more sense.

SIEGEL: If by the end of the day President Obama has commuted the sentences, granted clemency to 670 odd inmates from the federal system, is that a good number? Is it - does - are you impressed with it? Is it a very small percentage of the thousands and thousands of people who've applied as you've described?

ROSEBERRY: Well, of course it's a small percentage, but it's - you know, I guess when I think about the perspective of it, I think in terms of that one person who was serving life. That person would say it's enormous.

SIEGEL: The White House changes hands in January. Will your group keep working after President Obama leaves office?

ROSEBERRY: Well, that depends on our next president. If there's a commitment to continue to grant clemency, we hope to help all of those who need help.

SIEGEL: Cynthia Roseberry, thanks a lot for talking with us.

ROSEBERRY: Thank you, my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Cynthia Roseberry is project manager of Clemency Project 2014. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.