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Obama Shortens Prison Terms for 72 Drug Offenders

FILE - The commutation program President Barack Obama launched two years ago is the most far-reaching in more than 40 years.

President Barack Obama shortened the sentences of 72 convicts serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, the White House said Friday.

Obama has been commuting prisoners' sentences since 2014 as part of his long-standing effort to reform the U.S. criminal justice system. To date he has shortened the sentences of 944 convicts, including 324 who had been sentenced to life terms.

"Our nation is a nation of second chances," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement explaining the president's action, "where mistakes from the past will not deprive deserving individuals of the opportunity to rejoin society and contribute to their families and communities."

Obama is expected to issue further commutations periodically during his remaining time in office, which will end on January 20 when a new president is sworn in.

The commutation program Obama launched two years ago is the most far-reaching in more than 40 years. He has shortened the sentences of more prisoners than the combined total of such actions by his 11 most recent predecessors in the White House.

Many of the convicts affected by the presidential orders had been convicted of offenses involving crack cocaine, which for years has been punished by more stringent penalties than those handed down to those convicted of using or dealing in powder cocaine. The two substances are molecularly similar, and critics contend the disparity in criminal codes has effectively discriminated against minority communities.

All of the prisoners whose sentences Obama has reduced were obliged to complete curriculums designed to prepare them to re-enter society, such as education certificates, vocational educational programs and substance-abuse programs.