Obama commutes prison sentences of 214 drug offenders

Obama Commutes 61 Drug Sentences
Obama Commutes 61 Drug Sentences

WASHINGTON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 214 individuals on Wednesday, the most grants of clemency in a single day since at least 1900, the White House said.

Obama has now granted a total of 562 commutations during his presidency, more than the number by the past nine presidents combined, it said.

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The president has worked to reform the U.S. criminal justice system to reduce the number of people serving long, and in many cases life sentences for drug related crimes. It is a rare topic in which the Democratic president has received support from Republican lawmakers.

Many of the convicts had been serving time for crack cocaine. For years crack offenders faced stiffer penalties than offenders of powder cocaine, even though the substances are similar on a molecular level. Critics have said the disparity has unfairly harmed minority and poor communities.

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In 2014, Obama announced the most ambitious clemency program in 40 years, inviting thousands of drug offenders and other convicts to seek early release. But the program, which automatically expires when Obama leaves office next January, has struggled under a flood of unprocessed cases.

"Our work is far from finished," Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, said about the commutations. Eggleston urged Congress to take action. "While we continue to work to act on as many clemency applications as possible, only legislation can bring about lasting change to the federal system," he said. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Chris Reese and Andrew Hay)