President Barack Obama on Wednesday cut short the sentences of 214 federal inmates, including 67 life sentences, in what the White House called the largest batch of commutations on a single day in more than a century.
Almost all the prisoners were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes, reflecting Obama's long-stated view that the U.S. needs to remedy the consequences of decades of sentencing requirements that put tens of thousands of Americans behind bars for far too long. Obama has pushed for a broader fix to criminal justice laws and has used the aggressive pace of his commutations in an effort to pressure Congress and call more attention to the issue.
All told, Obama has commuted 562 sentences during his presidency — more than the past nine presidents combined, the White House said. Almost 200 of those who have benefited were serving life sentences.
"All of the individuals receiving commutation today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president's belief that 'America is a nation of second chances,'" White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.
Eggleston said Obama examines each clemency application on its specific merits to identify the appropriate relief, including whether the prisoner would be helped by additional drug treatment, educational programming or counseling. He called on Congress to finally pass a criminal justice overhaul to bring about "lasting change to the federal system."
Most of those receiving commutations Wednesday will be released Dec. 1.