Biden announces first use of clemency powers alongside new second chance initiatives

AP/Evan Vucci
President Biden announces aid for Ukraine.

President Biden on Tuesday granted pardons to three people convicted of nonviolent crimes and commuted the sentence of 75 individuals convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, marking his first use of clemency powers since taking office.

Biden announced the pardons and commutations alongside a rollout of new efforts that aid former inmates in reentering the work force.

“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,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”

Biden is pardoning Abraham Bolden Sr., an 86-year-old former Secret Service agent who was the first African American to serve on a presidential detail. He was charged in 1964 after he attempted to sell a copy of a Secret Service file and served several years in federal custody, the White House said.

The president is also pardoning Betty Jo Bogans, a Houston woman who was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Bogans, 51, was attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice, neither of whom were arrested, the White House said. She received a seven-year sentence despite having no prior record.

The third individual being pardoned on Tuesday is Dexter Jackson, a 52-year-old from Georgia who was convicted in 2002 for facilitating the distribution of marijuana through his business. Jackson was not directly involved in trafficking drugs, but allowed his business to be used for transactions. He pleaded guilty and served his sentence.

In addition to the three pardons, Biden is also commuting the sentences of 75 people who were charged with nonviolent drug crimes and are either serving prison time, under house arrest or are on supervised release.

All 75 “have made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, including through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison,” the White House said.

“While today’s announcement marks important progress, my Administration will continue to
review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equity and justice, provide second chances, and enhance the wellbeing and safety of all Americans,” Biden said in a statement.

Criminal justice groups had urged Biden for months to use his clemency powers to provide relief for individuals serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent crimes, particularly as jails were overcrowded amid the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to Tuesday, Biden had not pardoned or commuted the sentence of anyone since taking office.

In addition to the clemency announcements, the White House detailed a multistep effort as part of Second Chance Month to reduce recidivism and make employment more accessible for those who have previously served time.

The departments of Justice and Labor are announcing a $145 million investment in job skills training and individual employment plans for inmates in Bureau of Prisons facilities. 

The Small Business Administration will make changes to reduce barriers for those with criminal records to receive loans, and the Office of Personnel Management is adjusting its rules to make it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to work in the federal government.

The Education Department will select dozens of schools to expand its Second Chance Pell Initiative, a program first established in 2015 that provides Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals so they can take college courses.

Tags Biden clemency powers commutation non-violent crimes Second Chance Month

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