Obama commutes prison sentences of 214 drug offenders

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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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A prison cell is seen through the door window following a tour of the cell block by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
A prison cell block is seen following a tour by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Secret Service and Prison guards stand on the roof as US President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Police and a prison guard patrol the entrance of the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015, during a visit by US President Barack Obama. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama walks through the prison yard during a tour of the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Secret Service and security forces arrive at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015, for a visit by US President Barack Obama. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015, as US President Barack Obama arrives for a visit. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama's motorcade arrives at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One to Air Force One prior to departure from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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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)


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