How many inmates qualify under the new clemency program is unknown. The Justice Department estimates 23,000 prisoners may meet the basic criteria.
Jerome Flynn, chief federal public defender in Indiana’s northern district, said the number may be lower.
The policy requires those seeking clemency to meet some criteria open to interpretation.
Offenders, for example, can’t have “significant” criminal history or “significant” ties to gangs.
“We don’t know yet what ‘significant’ means,” Flynn said.
Earlier this week, the federal Bureau of Prisons started notifying inmates, including in Terre Haute, of the new clemency criteria.
Inmates have the option of starting clemency requests by completing a five-page questionnaire to be vetted by a coalition of legal organizations that are part of the Clemency Project 2014. Those organizations are working with the Justice Department to provide free legal advice to prisoners. Private practice attorneys may be called to offer services pro bono, depending upon need.
The clemency process can be time-consuming and cumbersome. It requires attorneys to dig back into court records that may be decades old to put together an argument for Obama to make what is a discretionary decision.
Foster said there’s some urgency, as well.
“We’ve got to get this done before the president leaves office,” she said.