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Obama commutes sentences of 8 people convicted on crack cocaine charges

It is one of the few times in his presidency that Obama has used his constitutional clemency powers to forgive criminals.

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Inmates at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, on Dec. 10, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin isn’t the only world leader in a forgiving mood.

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the jail terms of eight federal prisoners convicted on crack cocaine charges because they had been “sentenced under an unfair system.”

The eight men and women had been sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. Six of them were serving life sentences. With Obama's pardon, they will be released in mid-April.

Offenses involving crack cocaine previously carried longer sentences than those involving powder cocaine. A law signed by Obama in 2010 removed that disparity. 

“In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime," Obama said in a statement.

"This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late," Obama said, in reference to the Fair Sentencing Act.

"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society.

“Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”

Thursday marked one of the few times Obama has used his constitutional clemency powers to forgive criminal offenders or reduce their sentences.

He has previously commuted only one other prison sentence.

Obama has been pushing to curb excessive sentences for drug offenses, partly to reduce soaring taxpayer spending on the prison system, but also to remove unfairness in the legal system.

Mandatory minimum sentences, which tie the hands of sentencing judges, have triggered an explosion in the American prison population, which accounts for about 25 percent of the total number of people behind bars worldwide.

More from GlobalPost: New crack law: 1000s to be freed under revamped sentencing guidelines

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/131219/obama-commutes-8-sentences-crack-cocaine