Clemency Initiative

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair. These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system. I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals - equal justice under law.”

Former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole
Press Conference Announcing the Clemency Initiative
Washington, D.C.
April 23, 2014

On April 23, 2014, former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced the Department's initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted, or reduced, by the President of the United States.

Under the new initiative, the Department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors:

  • They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  • They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  • They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  • They do not have a significant criminal history;
  • They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  • They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

Read more about who is qualified to apply for commutation under the new criteria.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney is working in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to facilitate this initiative. In addition, the Clemency Project 2014 (a non-government affiliated organization composed of the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, as well as individuals active within those organizations and other lawyers wishing to participate in this volunteer effort) is helping to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates for this initiative.

Please note that as of October 19, 2015, Clemency Project 2014 stopped accepting requests for the assistance of outside counsel. This office has been advised that if applications were received prior to the cutoff date, Clemency Project 2014 will still review those requests for assistance and connect those whose cases appear to meet the described Clemency Initiative criteria with Federal Defenders or volunteer attorneys trained in the sentence commutation process.  However, if an inmate has not received a response from Clemency Project 2014 and would like to apply for commutation of sentence directly with this Office, they should feel free to submit their application with or without the assistance of counsel. Inmates who appear to meet the six criteria will be offered the assistance of an experienced pro bono attorney through Clemency Project 2014 in preparing his or her application for clemency. Clemency Project 2014 is not affiliated with the Department of Justice and is solely responsible for any recommendations and determinations of appropriate representation assignments. Public inquiries related to Clemency Project 2014 or pro bono attorney assignment should be directed to that organization via email to

An inmate who applies for clemency pro se (representing one's self) should request BOP staff to submit the petition along with the required documentation from the inmate's central file to Office of the Pardon Attorney. An inmate who elects to be represented by counsel in filing for commutation should consult with his or her attorney before contacting the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Important Links

About the Office of the Pardon Attorney
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Information and Instructions on Commutations and Remissions

Privacy Statement for Commutation of Sentence

Commutation Application

Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency

Updated January 13, 2016