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Obama Commutes Prison Sentences of 58 Non-Violent Drug Offenders

FILE - In this 2015 photo, a fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

President Barack Obama Thursday commuted the sentences of 58 federal inmates given long prison terms for non-violent drug-related crimes.

Eighteen had been given life sentences which the law required, even when some judges believed that the punishment was too severe.

Obama said Thursday that many non-violent offenders are forced to pay for their mistakes with penalties that are "unduly harsh."

"It just doesn't make sense to require a non-violent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in prison. An excessive punishment like that doesn't fit the crime. It's not serving taxpayers and it's not making us safer," the president said.

That likely means there will be more non-violent federal inmates who are released or have their sentences reduced between now and the end of the Obama presidency in January.

All 58 prisoners whose sentences were commuted Thursday were jailed for drug trafficking or drug-related money laundering.

"As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities," he said. "It's the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. And it's something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office."

Only Congress can reform mandatory federal sentencing laws and Obama said he is encouraged by efforts by Republicans and Democrats to take up the matter.

Since becoming president in 2009, Obama has commuted the sentences of 308 federal inmates — the most of any president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 40s.