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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department says it is taking new steps to encourage certain federal prisoners to seek clemency and is preparing for thousands of new applications.

The department plans to broaden the criteria that will be considered when deciding whether to recommend a prisoner for clemency.

The criteria will be announced later this week. The department says new lawyers will be assigned to review the applications.

In a video statement Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the change is designed to help federal drug offenders imprisoned under now out-of-date sentencing guidelines.

The announcement comes months after President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unduly harsh drug sentences. The Justice Department earlier had encouraged lawyers to help some drug prisoners prepare clemency petitions.

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