U.S. President Barack Obama has commuted the lengthy prison terms of eight people convicted of cocaine offenses in the most extensive use of his power to free inmates.
Obama said Thursday the six men and two women were all convicted of crack cocaine offenses and have served more than 15 years in prison, with several of them facing life terms. But he said they were sentenced under an old U.S. law that required lengthier prison terms for those convicted of crack cocaine offenses rather than powder cocaine charges.
The president said several of them would have already completed their terms if they had been sentenced under a law he signed three years ago, which narrows the gap for the two types of cocaine offenses, but only covers new cases.
Obama said that commuting the sentences "is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness." He called on Congress to pass other sentencing reforms in 2014. Most of the eight inmates are set to be freed in four months.
Obama also pardoned 13 other people, all of whom have long since completed their sentences for a variety of offenses.
Until now, Obama had only commuted one sentence during the five years of his presidency, while pardoning 39 people. A pardon forgives the crime and erases the conviction, while commutations leave the convictions, but shorten sentences.