President Barack Obama on Wednesday pardoned 214 convicts by cutting short their prison time; making it the largest number of commutations a U.S. leader has granted in single day since 1900.
Obama has now granted a total of 562 commutations during his presidency, more than the number by the past nine presidents combined, it said. In Wednesday’s batch, 67 convicts were serving life sentences.
The convicts were serving time for crimes including possession of crack cocaine and methamphetamine, with intent to distribute. Some were imprisoned on charges of gun possession.
One of the convicts, James Wright of Baltimore, Maryland, was serving a 20 year sentence that began in 2006 for possession of crack with intent to distribute. He will be released in December.
Obama has worked to reform the U.S. criminal justice system and reduce the number of people serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offences. It is a rare issue on which Obama gets support from Republican lawmakers.
For years crack offenders faced stiffer penalties than powder cocaine offenders, even though the substances are similar at the molecular level. Critics have said the disparity has unfairly harmed minority and poor communities.
In 2014, Obama announced the most ambitious clemency program in 40 years, inviting thousands of drug offenders and other convicts to seek early release. But the program has struggled under a flood of unprocessed cases.