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WASHINGTON — Thousands of federal offenders could become eligible for clemency consideration by President Obama under new guidelines set to be released later this week by the Justice Department.

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a video message posted Monday on the Justice website, said the expanded program will allow the president to consider clemency requests from "a larger field of eligible individuals.''

The Justice Department's action comes less than a week after the White House asked the department to revamp the rules for the solicitation of additional commutation and pardon requests.

"Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency,'' Holder said, adding that "potentially dozens of (department) lawyers'' would be assigned to review the anticipated wave of requests.

The effort is part of a larger strategy to reduce the bloated federal prison population and reverse past sentencing policies that doomed many offenders, including thousands of non-violent drug offenders, to disproportionately long terms.

In January, Deputy Attorney General James Cole appealed to state bar associations to help identify low-level, non-violent drug offenders who could be candidates for grants of clemency.

"As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens,'' Holder said.

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