Obama releases 111 drug offenders, bringing total commutations to 673

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President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates serving long prison sentences for mainly non-violent drug crimes, bringing the total number of commutations the president has granted to 673, the White House said on Tuesday.

According to USA Today, the White House has been working to sift through a backlog of 11,477 pending requests for commutations as of Aug. 11, and turned down approximately 2,227 others on Aug. 8. The magazine also wrote 35 of this round's 111 commutations will not take effect for two years, while others released by Obama will remain under court supervision.

The president has argued many non-violent drug offenders serving time in federal and state prisons deserve a second chance. Earlier this month, his Facebook page posted a letter from an inmate who had received a commutation accompanied by a caption reading "we've got to make sure that it keeps our streets safe while also making sure that an entire class of people ... isn't relegated to a life on the margins."

Sentencing reform for drug offenders has become a major national issue amid rising concern about the expansion of the U.S. prison system, which now incarcerates more people per capita than any another nation in the world, and shifting public attitudes towards drugs. Polling in recent years has indicated large majorities of the U.S. public now favors treating drug use primarily as a public health problem rather than a law enforcement issue, with one 2014 Pew Research Center poll concluding 67% favor "providing treatment" over prosecuting drug users.

But sentencing reform efforts in Congress have stalled this year amid Republican opposition, and such reforms would not be retroactive for thousands of inmates serving lengthy or life sentences under harsh laws passed decades ago. So the president has moved to unilateral actions; according to the White House, Obama's 673 commutations are more than the last 10 presidents combined.

Obama hasn't relied exclusively on commutations to do the job, with thousands of other inmates potentially seeing shorter sentences as a result of his administration's efforts to take action before his term ends in January. Last year, the Justice Department moved to release 6,000 other drug offenders early.