U.S. President Barack Obama has shortened the sentences of 214 inmates of U.S. federal prisons, in what the White House called the largest batch of commutations on a single day in more than a century.
The early release is part of Obama's effort to correct what he views as unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences.
The president's push to lessen the burden on nonviolent drug offenders reflects his long-stated view that the nation should remedy the consequences of decades of onerous sentencing rules, which have put tens of thousands of Americans behind bars for far too long.
Among those affected by Wednesday's presidential order were 67 individuals serving life sentences - almost all for nonviolent drug crimes, although a few also were charged with firearms violations related to their drug activities.
To date, Obama has granted 562 commutations, more than the previous nine presidents combined, and more clemency actions that by any other president in nearly a century.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in the White House blog that 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 programs or counseling.
FILE - Inmates are seen exercising in the main yard at California State Prison in Vacaville, California, May 20, 2015. Incarcerations in the U.S. of nonviolent drug offenders are seen as disproportionately high.
‘We are not done yet’
Presidents tend to use their powers to commute sentences or issue pardons more frequently near the end of their terms of office. Administration officials said the rapid pace will continue before Obama's leaves the White House in January 2017.
"We are not done yet," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. "We expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative."
Obama has long called for phasing out strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries. With presidential support, the Justice Department in recent years has directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.
Eggleston once again called on Congress to pass legislation overhauling the U.S. criminal justice system.
"It is critical that both the House and the Senate continue to work on a bipartisan basis to get a criminal justice reform bill to the president's desk," he wrote.