WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama commuted prison sentences for 61 nonviolent drug offenders on Wednesday and the White House said he hopes to issue more pardons and commutations during his remaining months in office.

Obama has pushed to reform the U.S. criminal justice system to reduce the number of people serving long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, a rare area where the Democratic president has garnered support from Republican lawmakers.

“It does not make sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be getting 20 years, 30 years, in some cases life in prison. That’s not serving anybody,” Obama said after lunch with several people whose sentences had been commuted.

Obama has now commuted 248 sentences, which the White House said was more than the previous six presidents combined. More than a third of those commuted on Wednesday were life sentences.

“Throughout the remainder of his time in office, the president is committed to continuing to issue more grants of clemency as well as to strengthening rehabilitation programs,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement.

Over a burger, Obama talked with four women and three men whose sentences were commuted about what it was like to get a second chance.

He highlighted the story of Phillip Emmert, convicted in 1992 on a charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Emmert, who wiped back tears as Obama told his story, served 14 years before then-President George W. Bush commuted his sentence in 2006. Emmert got clean from drugs, took job training in prison and now maintains air-handling systems at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, Iowa.

“It is my strong belief that by exercising these presidential powers, I have the chance to show people what a second chance can look like,” Obama told reporters.

The Justice Department launched a program in April 2014 to identify prisoners serving time for crimes they were sentenced for under laws that have since been changed to carry less severe punishments.

Applicants qualify if they have no record of violence, no significant ties to a gang or drug cartel, have been in prison at least 10 years and have demonstrated good behavior.

Efforts on Capitol Hill to change laws to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders have stalled amid the race for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Obama said he was still hopeful Congress would act before he leaves the White House in January, praising the efforts of Republican Speaker Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives.

A new approach

On Tuesday, Obama called for more funding and a new approach to help people addicted to heroin and prescription drugs, seeking to shine a public spotlight on an increasingly deadly killer.

During an appearance at a drug abuse summit in Atlanta, Obama said opioid overdoses killed more people in the United States than traffic accidents did, and compared the importance of addressing the issue to that of fighting Islamic State militants.

“It’s costing lives and it’s devastating communities,” Obama said while participating in a panel with addicts in recovery and medical professionals. He said efforts to fight the epidemic were grossly underfunded.

More money for treatment

Obama, who earlier this year asked Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding over two years to expand treatment for the epidemic, has faced criticism for not doing more to fight the problem sooner.

Opioid addiction has become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Obama wrote about using marijuana and cocaine in his book “Dreams from my Father.” He said he was lucky addiction had not overcome him earlier in life beyond his use of cigarettes, and he pressed for the issue to be framed as a medical problem rather than a legal one.

“For too long we have viewed the problem of drug abuse generally in our society through the lens of the criminal justice system,” he said.

In 2014, a record number of Americans died from drug overdoses, with the highest rates seen in West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio. That year, according to the CDC, more than 47,000 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the United States — including 10,574 heroin deaths, The Washington Post reports.

Obama said he needs Congress to open the purse strings to help expand treatment, particularly in rural areas, and applauded bipartisan legislation designed to combat the problem.

Meanwhile his administration announced $11 million in grants for up to 11 states to help expand medication-assisted treatment, and another $11 million for states to buy and distribute naloxone, an overdose drug.

The Health and Human Services Department is also proposing a new rule for buprenorphine, a medication used to help addicted people reduce or quit their use of heroin or painkillers.

The rule would allow physicians who are qualified to prescribe the medication to double their patient limit to 200. The White House said that measure would expand treatment for tens of thousands of people.