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President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 214 inmates, the largest single-day batch since at least 1900, according to the White House.
It’s part of Obama’s ramped-up effort to free prisoners slapped with lengthy sentences during the government’s war on drugs. Among those freed on Wednesday were 67 people serving life sentences, mostly for nonviolent drug crimes.
Obama has issued 562 commutations during his seven-and-a-half years in office, more than the previous nine presidents combined, according to the White House. In total, 197 of those inmates were sentenced to life in prison.
The commutations are part of a clemency initiative launched in 2014 to review sentences of drug offenders who would not receive harsh sentences under today’s guidelines.
Since then, the administration has faced constant pressure from criminal-justice reform advocates to pick up the pace of commutations, which at first progressed slowly as the Justice Department struggled to process thousands of inmate applications.
The size of the latest batch is a sign that the pace of commutations could increase during his final months in office.
"Our work is far from finished," White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post. "I expect the president will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion."
It’s the fourth round of commutations for drug offenders the White House has announced this year.
Obama cut short the sentences of 61 drug offenders in March; in May, he commuted sentences of 58 inmates; and in June, he freed 42 more.
The commutations are increasingly seen as a last-ditch effort for Obama to cut short prison sentences he views as unjust.
A bipartisan push in Congress to pass legislation reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders has sputtered ahead of the November election.
Lawmakers are on a seven-week summer recess, and the criminal justice reform legislation is seen as a long shot to pass in the weeks before the November elections — when lawmakers must address government funding — or the lame-duck session of Congress.
“While we continue to work to act on as many clemency applications as possible, only legislation can bring about lasting change to the federal system,” Eggleston wrote.
“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.”
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group involved in the clemency initiative, applauded the latest grant of commutations.
“Many people will use words today like leniency and mercy," the group's vice president, Kevin Ring, said in a statement. "But what really happened is that a group of fellow citizens finally got the punishment they deserved. Not less, but, at long last, not more.”
Updated at 2:08 p.m.