By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 330 federal inmates, particularly drug offenders, on Thursday, making his quest to reduce what he viewed as overly harsh punishments one of his final acts in office.
Obama leaves the White House on Friday, when Republican President-elect Donald Trump will succeed him.
The commutations were the most done in a single day, the White House said, and brought the total number of sentences reduced by Obama to 1,715.
"The vast majority of these men and women are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement.
The move means Obama has granted more commutations than any other U.S. president in history and, Eggleston said, surpassed the number granted by the past 13 presidents combined.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the Office of the Pardon Attorney had processed more than 16,000 petitions since a clemency initiative was launched in April 2014.
"By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this Administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system,” she said.
Stymied by Congress in efforts to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform, Obama focused on reducing the sentences of drug offenders who would have served less time if convicted under current laws.
Eggleston said he hoped the people whose sentences were commuted would set an example for others.
"As the President has written to you, your example will influence whether someone in similar circumstances will get his or her own second chance in the future," he said.
(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sandra Maler)