President Barack Obama cut the prison sentences for 214 federal inmates Wednesday — the highest number in a single day since at least 1900 — ensuring a legacy that has softened punishments for certain offenses, the White House said.
While in office, Obama has granted 562 commutations, which the Department of Justice says is more than the past nine presidents combined.
The Obama administration's focus in granting clemency has been on inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses and are serving sentences that, if those same people were found guilty today, would not be as long.
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In a news release, the White House said those "incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws embody the President’s belief that 'America is a nation of second chances.'"
The administration has also reviewed clemency requests from prisoners who have served at least 10 years of their sentences and have shown good behavior while behind bars.
The majority of those seeing an early release in this latest round were convicted of distribution or possession of cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana, among other drugs. Nearly six dozen of those permitted early release were facing life sentences, and many are now set to be freed Dec. 1.
Obama — a proponent of federal prison reform — has called for the shortening or eliminating of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders as a way to address the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.
More commutations are expected before the president leaves the White House next January.
Erik Ortiz is an NBC News staff writer focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.