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Obama commutes 22 prison sentences

Following an administration-wide commitment to reform sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, President Obama on Tuesday commuted prison time for 22 people convicted of federal drug crimes, many of whom faced decades to life behind bars.

The nearly two dozen offenders had been found guilty on a range of drug charges including intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and possession of methamphetamine. All but one will be freed from prison on July 28th.

"It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances," President Obama wrote in a letter to Terry Barnes, one of the inmates whose 20-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine base was shortened. Barnes has already served 10 years in federal prison and will be released this summer.

The White House said the president wrote a letter to each inmate.

President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced disparities in sentences imposed on individuals convicted of crimes involving different forms of cocaine. But individuals sentenced under the old laws serve longer sentences than if they were sentenced today for the same crime.

In December 2013, President Obama sought to address this disparity by commuting the sentences of eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years for crack cocaine offenses. Many of those individuals would have completed their sentenced under the revised law, according to the Justice Department. The President subsequently said he wanted to consider additional clemency applications from inmates in similar situations.

A year ago, Attorney General Eric Holder announced an expansion of the criteria the Department of Justice uses in considering when recommending clemency applications for Presidential review. The new criteria allows the Department of Justice and the White House to consider clemency requests from a larger field of eligible individuals - especially those who received long sentences under old drug laws and who do not otherwise pose a threat to public safety.

Since taking office, President Obama has issued 64 pardons and 43 commutations including today's announcement. By comparison, President George W. Bush issued 189 pardons and 11 commutations over his eight years in office. The majority of commutations granted by President Bush were for drug offenders.

Jillian Hughes contributed to this report.

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