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President Biden is granting his first three pardons while in office and commuting the sentences of 75 individuals serving prison time for nonviolent drug crimes, as part of the Biden administration’s “broad commitment” to reforming the justice system and addressing racial disparities.
The White House said Tuesday that the pardons and commutations embody the president’s “belief that America is a nation of second chances,” saying that the individuals have “made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, including through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison.”
“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,” the president said, adding that he is 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 COVIDpandemic [sic]—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.”
The First Step Act is a law that passed with bipartisan support under the Trump administration, which lowers the mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug felonies, shifting to offer drug offenders with three convictions up to 25 years in prison instead of life; and allows some people serving sentences for crack cocaine offenses the opportunity to petition a judge for a reduced penalty.
The individuals expected to receive a full pardon are Abraham Bolden, an 86-year-old former U.S. Secret Service agent, who was the first African American to serve on a presidential detail. Bolden, in 1964, was charged with offenses relating to attempting to sell a copy of his Secret Service file. Bolden has maintained his innocence, arguing that he was targeted in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the agency.
Department of Justice in Washington (iStock)
Bolden had received numerous honors and awards for his ongoing work to speak out against the racism he faced in the Secret Service in the 1960s, and for his courage in challenging injustice.
Betty Jo Bogans, 51, is also set to receive a full pardon from the president after she was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in the Southern District of Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice—neither of whom were detained or arrested. Officials said Bogans was a single mother with no prior record when convicted. Bogan received a seven-year sentence.
Officials say Bogans, since her release, has held consistent employment, even while undergoing treatment for cancer, and has focused on raising her son.
Dexter Eugene Jackson, 52, is also expected to receive a full pardon. He was convicted in 2002 for his business to facilitate the distribution of marijuana in the Northern District of Georgia. Jackson was not personally involved in the trafficking of marijuana, officials said, but allowed marijuana distributors to use his pool hall to facilitate drug transactions.
At the time, Jackson accepted full responsibility for his actions and pled guilty. Since his release from custody, Jackson converted his business into a cell phone repair service, and he now hires local high school students through a program that seeks to provide young adults with work experience. Jackson, according to officials, also works to build and renovate homes in a community that “lacks quality affordable housing.”
President Joe Biden speaks at Business Roundtable’s CEO quarterly meeting. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Beyond the pardons and commutations, the president said his administration on Tuesday is taking steps to expand employment opportunities and help formerly incarcerated people successfully re-enter society – which a senior administration official said are “two key pillars” of the president’s comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat gun violence and other violent crime.
“Advancing successful reentry outcomes makes our communities safer, breaks cycles of economic hardship, and strengthens our economy,” the official said.
The White House on Tuesday announced a $145 million partnership between the Justice Department and the Labor Department to invest in job training and reentry programs in federal prisons to provide pathways for a “seamless transition to employment and reentry support upon release.”
President Joe Biden gives remarks at a Black History Month celebration event at the White House on Feb. 28, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
The initiative comes as part of the Justice Department’s implementation of the First Step Act. The law also gives a directive for the DOJ to establish a system to assess the risk of a person to re-offend as well as to create housing or other incentives for offenders to participate in recidivism reduction programs.
Biden administration officials anticipate that the pilot program—the first of its kind—will serve thousands of incarcerated individuals in multiple states.
“The president’s announcement with respect to these commutations…this is an exercise of the president’s power that reflects his broad commitment to reform our justice system and address racial disparities,” an administration official said. “He understands that too many people are serving very long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and so he is using his clemency power as a way to try and address that.”
The official also said the new program is a “crime reduction strategy.”
“We know employment reduces recidivism and we’re really leaning into that,” the official said, saying Tuesday’s announcements are part of the Biden administration’s “comprehensive, inclusive strategy.”
“You need to do a lot of things at once,” the official said. “You need to make sure that people are getting support while they are incarcerated and they’re beginning to get the job skills and training that they need.”
The administration also is set expand access to business capital through the Small Business Administration—which recently announced the elimination of criminal record restrictions to access its Community Advantage loans—a critical program that provides loans to low-income borrowers and to those from underserved communities.
The administration, on Tuesday, will also “remove barriers” to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals, and agencies like the Department of Transportation will expand access to jobs.
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Prisons are also set to make a joint announcement about a new effort to expedite the restoration of benefits for incarcerated veterans. The VA also announced new efforts to increase the number of state prisons and jails that use its Veterans Reentry Search Service, which helps identify veterans in their custody and connect them with reentry services.
The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a new special enrollment period of six months post-release for Medicare for people who missed an enrollment period for health insurance coverage while incarcerated. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development is also announcing a review of its existing regulations and guidance to identify how HUD programs can increase inclusivity of people with arrest and conviction records.
As for educational opportunities, the Department of Education will announce changes to policies to help incarcerated individuals get out of loan default and get access to Pell Grants.
“In the short term, incarcerated persons who have defaulted will get a ‘fresh start.’ Like other defaulted borrowers, incarcerated borrowers with defaulted loans will reenter repayment in good standing when the student loan payment pause ends,” an official said, adding that the Department of Education is also announcing a “longer-term fix” that will allow incarcerated individuals to consolidate their loans to get out of default.
“This change will now allow incarcerated persons the same opportunity to get out of default as non-incarcerated persons,” the official said.
The president, meanwhile, stressed that “helping those who served their time to return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime.”
Biden added that while the announcements Tuesday mark “important progress,” his administration will continue to “review clemency petitions” and deliver reforms that he said will “advance equity and justice, provide second chances and enhance the wellbeing and safety of all Americans.”