WASHINGTON (CN) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday granted clemency to 61 nonviolent drug offenders and commuted their prison sentences, more than a third of which were life terms.
The White House says that brings the total number of sentences Obama has commuted to 248, including 92 life sentences.
His administration says the 248 commuted sentences amounts to more than the previous six presidents combined. A graphic on the White House press office website shows that the next closest is Bill Clinton with 61 commuted sentences, while George W. Bush issued 11 commutations.
"The power to grant pardons and commutations... embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws," Obama reportedly wrote in a letter to those whose sentences he commuted.
The White House said those ordered free Wednesday were "serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws."
Most of the 61 drug offenders will be released on July 28. Two will be let out on Sept. 26 and five others will be freed March 30, 2017.
The White House says 21 of them were serving life sentences.
Their convictions were nonviolent, though 12 had firearm possession or carrying charges.
While Obama has commuted more sentences than any recent president, he has only pardoned 70 people - the fewest since President James Garfield in the 1880s, according to a CBS News report.
A pardon is an executive order granting clemency after a sentence has been completed, which typically restores an offender's civil rights. A commutation is the mitigation of a sentence without vacating the underlying conviction.
On Thursday afternoon, the White House will host a briefing titled "Life After Clemency," during which administration officials, academics and advocates will discuss Obama's clemency imitative and what it's like to return to society after years in prison. It can be seen live on the White House's website at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday.
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