*President Joe Biden marked “Second Chance Month” on Tuesday (04-26-22) at the White House by issuing three full pardons and 75 commutations for non-violent drug offenders. The Biden-Harris administration also announced a comprehensive set of plans to support formerly incarcerated persons re-entering society.
In a statement released by the White House, Biden wrote, “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.” He also stated, “As I laid out in my comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime, helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime.”
- President Biden for the first time in his presidency issued 75 commutations and 3 full pardons; the most of any President at this point in his first term.
- The Biden-Harris administration announced a comprehensive re-entry strategy to aid formerly incarcerated individuals in getting housing, health care, and job and educational opportunities.
While former President Donald Trump grabbed headlines with a select few high-profile clemency actions, the data shows that he used his powers much less frequently than his predecessors; granting only 2% of the requests. In using his clemency powers for the first time in his presidency, President Biden moved to the front of the pack with the most commutations of any President at this point in their tenure.
President Biden announced the pardon of Abraham Bolden, an 86-year-old former U.S. Secret Service agent and the first African American to serve on a presidential detail. In 1964, Mr. Bolden was charged with offenses related to attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file and convicted after two trials. He was denied a new trial despite several key witnesses admitting to being directed to lie by the prosecutor. He served several years in prison. Mr. Bolden has always maintained his innocence and argued that the charges were in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the U.S. Secret Service. Mr. Bolden remains a distinguished community leader who will now enjoy a clean slate thanks to Biden’s presidential pardon.
Biden also pardoned 51-year-old Betty Jo Bogans and 52-year-old Dexter Jackson. In 1998 when Ms. Bogans was sentenced to seven years in prison for her role in transporting cocaine to her boyfriend and his partner (neither of whom were ever arrested), she was a single mother with no prior record. Mr. Jackson was convicted in 2002 for allowing his pool hall to be used by individuals selling marijuana although he was not personally involved in the trafficking. In granting the pardons, the White House statement highlighted that Ms. Bogans “held consistent employment, even while undergoing treatment for cancer, and has focused on raising her son”. The statement also highlighted that Mr. Jackson “worked to build and renovate homes in a community that lacks quality affordable housing.”
President Biden commuted sentences for 75 people he characterized as “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.” Among those pardoned, Robert Barrio will be released in August 2022 rather than serving out a life sentence he was sentenced to in 2000 for several cocaine distribution-related charges. Byron James Miller, who is serving consecutive sentences of 16 and 17 years for cocaine and heroin intent to distribute charges, will now be released in 2023 instead of 2029 with the remainder of his sentence served in home confinement.
Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, but within 3 years of their release more than two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested and half are incarcerated. The challenges of re-entry and high rates of recidivism are issues that Vice President Kamala Harris has for decades lead the charge on. As San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created the first of its kind Back On Track program to handle the kinds of non-violent drug offender cases that President Biden commuted on Tuesday. She took the program statewide as Attorney General and she created the Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry to curb recidivism.
It should come as no surprise that the Biden-Harris administration is taking aim at making the re-entry transition smoother for formerly incarcerated people. The actions include significant investments in job training and educational opportunities, expanding access to capital, expanding employment opportunities in federal contracting and government, and expanding health care access and housing.
The White House announced a “historic DOJ-DOL partnership” with the Department of Justice and Department of labor collaborating for the first time to invest $145 million from the FY22 budget to provide job skill training, individual employment, and personalized reentry plans for federally incarcerated people. The Department of Labor expects to award grants to provide education, paid work experience, leadership development, digital literacy training, and career counseling.
The Biden-Harris administration is also moving to remove barriers for those with a criminal history that prevents them from accessing business capital, employment opportunities, housing, and health care. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will publish changes to reduce restrictions on its programs, including the Microloan and 504 loan programs. Formerly incarcerated individuals will have an easier time gaining federal employment upon the enactment of proposed regulations to remove barriers. The administration will also move to ensure that individuals with a record will not be left out of the historic infrastructure investments or in hiring by federal contractors.
Other major initiatives announced are: support for veterans getting their benefits restored; establishing a Special Enrollment Period for those who missed the Medicare enrollment period while incarcerated; expanded housing access; expansion of second chance pell grants, and more.
According to a senior White House official the comprehensive re-entry plan and clemency actions announced Tuesday do not supplant other criminal justice reform initiatives under consideration by the administration. Biden concluded his statement today by stating, “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.”
Reecie Colbert is the founder of BlackWomenViews Media. She is renowned for her unique mix of bold, intelligent, and unfiltered commentary. Colbert is a political and culture commentator appearing weekly on the Roland Martin Unfiltered Show and the Clay Cane Show on SiriusXM radio.