Obama commutes 42 drug-related prison sentences

President Obama added to a record-setting list of commutations Friday, shortening the prison terms of 42 people convicted of drug crimes under what the White House called “outdated and unduly harsh” sentencing laws.

“The individuals receiving a presidential commutation today have more than repaid their debt to society and earned this second chance,” said White House Counsel Neil Eggleston in a blog post.

This latest group of commutations brings Obama’s total to 348, more than the previous seven presidents combined. Of that total, more than a third involved life sentences.

Eggleston said Obama “remains committed to using his clemency power” for his remaining six months in office in order to give deserving individuals a “second chance.”

Of the 48 people who had their sentences shortened on Friday, 20 were serving life terms.

Obama — and some lawmakers in both parties — have called for an overhaul of federal sentencing laws, saying current policies required long sentences and even life imprisonment for relatively minor drug offenses.

“If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society,” Obama said in a speech last year. “You have to be held accountable and make amends — but you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”

Some sentencing policies have changed over the years. The White House said in a statement that many of the people who have had their sentences commuted would have already completed their time had they been convicted under current laws.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said, “we are confident that there will be many more commutations in the months to come.”