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Under a broad clemency program announced by his administration earlier this year, President Barack Obama pardoned eight Americans serving time for non-violent drug offenses Wednesday — an action that will allow the individuals to leave prison ahead of schedule next year.

The move marks the first under the clemency program that shortens inmates’ sentences. The prisoners, men and women from Alabama, Virginia, and Iowa, were incarcerated for possessing crack or methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Obama also pardoned 12 others who had already served their time, according to Reuters.

In April, the U.S. Justice Department laid out new guidelines that allow re-examination of prison terms meted out to inmates who have served at least 10 years of their prison term, are non-violent and were sentenced under laws that have since changed.

New laws and guidelines in recent years have reduced differences in penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses, giving judges more latitude is imposing sentences and offering prosecutors more discretion in applying tools that would impose mandatory minimum sentences. The changes have meant that many prisoners are serving harsher sentences then they would have received if sentenced today for the same crimes.

“While all eight were properly held accountable for their criminal actions, their punishments did not fit their crimes,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said.

Wednesday’s action was a broader push by the Obama administration to reduce spending on federal prisons by cutting inmates who are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

SOURCE: Reuters | VIDEO SOURCE: News Inc.

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