Booker would eye pardons for nonviolent drug offenders

Booker would eye pardons for nonviolent drug offenders
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Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-N.J.), a 2020 White House hopeful, announced on Thursday that he would initiate a clemency process on his first day in the Oval Office for an estimated 17,000-plus nonviolent drug offenders serving “unjust and excessive sentences.”

Booker's Restoring Justice Initiative comes as he makes reducing racial inequities a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. The New Jersey Democrat led the effort to pass the First Step Act, which, among other things, reduced mandatory minimum drug sentences and allowed resentencing to be applied retroactively to individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses before 2010.

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Booker has also called for the legalization of marijuana, citing arrests over possession of the drug that disproportionately impact people of color. 

“The War on Drugs has been a war on people, tearing families apart, ruining lives, and disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income individuals — all without making us safer,” Booker said in a statement on Thursday.

“When it comes to restoring justice, we can’t be timid," he added. "As president, I will act immediately to right these wrongs, starting by initiating a clemency process for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who have been handed unjust sentences by their government."

“Granting clemency won’t repair all the damage that has been done by the War on Drugs and our broken criminal justice system, but it will help our country confront this injustice and begin to heal.”

Booker listed three classes of individuals who would be immediately considered for clemency: those serving time for primarily marijuana-related offenses, prisoners whose sentences would have been reduced under the First Step Act if all the bill’s sentencing provisions had been applied retroactively and individuals currently incarcerated with “excessive sentences” due to the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

His plan would also create an Executive Clemency Panel to review cases and a federal interagency council that would help facilitate ex-convicts’ reentry into society.

Booker’s campaign went on to cite precedent for using the president’s clemency power, noting instances such as President Kennedy’s use of commutations for individuals sentenced to mandatory minimum penalties under the 1956 Narcotics Control Act and President Ford’s offer of amnesty to those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.