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April 26, 2022

Prez Biden finally uses his clemency pen to grant three pardons and 75 commutations

Because I always am inclined to say better late than never, I was quite pleased to wake up to the news that President Joe Biden is finally starting to make good on his  campaign promise to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."  This USA Today piece, headlined "Biden to pardon three felons, commute sentences of 75 others, in first grants of clemency," provides these details:

The nation's first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail, now 86 years old living in Chicago, who has worked decades to clear his name for a crime he has said he didn't commit. A 51-year-old woman from Houston who served seven years in prison for attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and accomplice – neither of whom faced charges. And a 52-year-old man from Athens, Georgia, who partners with schools to employ youth at his cellphone repair company, two decades after he was charged for letting pot dealers use his pool hall to sell drugs.

Three convicted felons – Abraham Bolden Sr., Betty Jo Bogans and Dexter Eugene Jackson – are receiving presidential pardons from President Joe Biden, along with 75 others whose sentences the president is commuting Tuesday, in the first use of clemency power of the Biden presidency.  All of Biden's commutations target individuals serving sentences for low-level drug offenses, some of whom have served on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many are Black or brown, and the White House said each has displayed efforts to rehabilitate themselves.

The clemency announcements, which coincide with national "Second Chance Month," come as Biden will also announce new actions aimed at improving outcomes for felons who reenter society. That includes $145 million for a federal program to train the incarcerated for future employment and the removal of criminal history in applications for Small Business Administration grants.

"America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation," Biden said in a statement. "Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans."...

The individuals granted clemency came at the recommendation of the Department of Justice's pardon attorney, according to senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters about the announcement. It marks a return of a practice that was largely bypassed by former President Donald Trump, whose clemency requests often came through close aides. Biden said the three people pardoned have each "demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities."...

Nearly one-third of the 75 commutation recipients would have received lower sentences if they had been charged today under the Trump-era criminal justice law, the First Step Act, according to senior Biden administration officials. They have served an average of 10 years in prison and have "shown resilience" in seeking a productive path forward, a White House official said.

The official statement from Prez Biden on these grants is available at this link, and its start provides links to all those granted clemency and other executive action on the reentry front:

America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.  During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.

Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities.  I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic — and many of whom would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act.  

My Administration is also announcing new steps today to support those re-entering society after incarceration.  These actions include: a new collaboration between the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor to provide job training; new grants for workforce development programs; greater opportunities to serve in federal government; expanded access to capital for people with convictions trying to start a small business; improved reentry services for veterans; and more support for health care, housing, and educational opportunities. 

Though I am still a bit salty that it took Prez Biden 15+ months in office before using his clemency pen, I am pleasantly surprised to see a large number of grants and many commutations to persons serving lengthy terms terms for drug offenses.  From a quick scan, it looks like perhaps more than a third of those who received commutations are women, which reminded me of the statements of Prez Trump clemency recipient Alice Marie Johnson that there were thousands of persons like her in prison who deserved commutation.  (BOP data show the federal prison population is comprised of less than 7% women, though I sense that much more than 7% of the most mitigated cases involve women.)

A few of many prior recent related posts:

April 26, 2022 at 08:31 AM | Permalink

Comments

Every single one of these commutations has already been released to a halfway house on the first step except 2 people. Is this a joke? Pathetic at best, how about hitting up the people still in prison for 36 years on ghost dope, what a clown move Biden

Posted by: Randy Cowan | Apr 26, 2022 9:40:42 AM

@Randy Cowan: It’s not right to pin this on Biden. Most modern presidents have limited their pardons and commutations to obvious and non-controversial cases. Especially with an election 7 months away, no president is going to risk a pardon that has the slightest chance of being controversial.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 26, 2022 10:13:04 AM

I agree with Marc Shepherd. Without speaking to the merits of the pardons, which I don't know, give Biden credit for issuing them when he's still politically accountable.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 26, 2022 10:24:45 AM

@marc Shepard, Bill Otis. First of all, let's be honest, trump is responsible for releasing these people due to the First Step Act, Biden just piggybacked (I am No Trump Supporter BTW) I, for one, don't think it's controversial to do what you promised to do. Especially when it partially won you the election, people are tired of family member going to prison for non-violent crimes. (On the low end)
Biden promised to fix what he help create- mass incarceration. Sending people to prison for words. Amounts if drugs spoken- not found, from an unreliable source- someone actually caught with drugs or a victim of ghost dope themselves, looking for a downward departure. Ghost Dope is real and every day someone is forced to plead guilty in the Federal system or face 40 years in trial. For words. Every single commutation was for ghost dope. "Conspiracy" this is the law that is abused- created to catch people like, John Gotti, not Joe down the road. Most are poor and drug users, not traffickers. They arrest them by getting a warrant (on words again) and force them to plead guilty, told they will receive 5 years and then slapped with 15 years of enhancements because they lived in a house and plainly, because they can. You really don't understand until it happens to your child or wife and by then...it's too late. I am a true believer that evidence must be present to go to prison. words from a person with an interest? Is not evidence..

Posted by: Randy Cowan | Apr 26, 2022 11:28:07 AM

As Bill Otis noted, by releasing these pardons & commutations now, 7 months before an election, Biden has actually done more than similarly-situated presidents in the modern era. I am not defending current practices. It’s simply a fact that modern presidents just do not take pardon risks when an election hangs in the balance. While I would not call these pardons risky, it is still more than most of his recent predecessors did.

Part of the reason is that pardon (promised or given) do not materially move elections in a president or presidential candidate’s favor. But a bad pardon could certainly move sentiment against him. You are kidding yourself if you think this had any part in getting Biden elected or would play any part in getting him re-elected.

Biden is far more likely to be punished at the polls for the sloppy Afghanistan exit, inflation, and the failure to enact most of Build Back Better. And you could probably add 20 more things before you get to pardons.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 26, 2022 1:13:56 PM

Yes, let's be honest. First Step should've passed under Obama but Sen. Mitch did not want to give him a win. So yes, all credit to the former guy who signed the law (and let's forget his later disavowal of the law).

Posted by: whatever | Apr 26, 2022 3:25:32 PM

For grants like this--

Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the 20-year term of supervised release.

Is that home confinement until 4/2023 then supervised release, or is it prison to 4/2023, HC for the remaining term, then SR?

I was wondering why some grants are written that way while others expire the sentence earlier with no reference to HC?

Posted by: Jason | Apr 28, 2022 10:55:12 AM

I saw a report, Jason, that 70 of the 75 are already on home confinement under the CARES Act (but still at risk of getting sent back after the pandemic ends). These grants, as I read them, ensure these folks will stay on HC until the new expiration of their sentence (after which they still need to serve supervised realease).

As to why most have sentences ending 4/2023 and others have other commutation ending dates, that is a real mystery. Indeed, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, more folks on CARES release that may be similar to this cohort.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 28, 2022 11:07:07 AM

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