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Biden finally answers the call for clemency
The president granted three pardons and 75 commutations to non-violent drug offenders as his administration announced a series of new actions to support people re-entering society after incarceration.
President Joe Biden today will announce that he has granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people, actions that advocates of criminal justice reform have been calling on for months.
The pardoned individuals include:
An 86-year-old former US Secret Service agent who was the first Black person to serve on a presidential detail and was charged with offenses relating to attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file.
A 51-year-old woman who was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice, neither of whom were detained or arrested.
A 52-year-old man who was convicted in 2002 for using his business to facilitate the distribution of marijuana in Georgia.
The 75 commutations were granted to people sentenced for non-violent drug offenses. And one-third would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, according to a senior administration official. (FYI, a pardon deletes a conviction and the civil disabilities associated with a conviction, such as the right to vote or to hold public office, while a commutation keeps the conviction but reduces the punishment.)
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption and rehabilitation,” President 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.”
Biden added that the use of his clemency authority upholds those values.
The White House today also announced 20 new actions across a dozen agencies to support people re-entering society after incarceration.
The Departments of Justice and Labor Departments will administer a $145-million partnership as part of the Justice Department’s implementation of the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill Donald Trump signed in 2017.
Through the initiative, people incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons facilities job skills training and individualized employment and reentry plans to provide pathways for a seamless transition to employment and reentry support upon release.
The administration says the collaboration is the first of its kind and will be the first time the Department of Labor will bring its job training and reentry support and expertise to federal prisoners.
The Education Department will select 73 additional schools to expand its Second Chance Pell Initiative, an Obama-era program that provides Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals to participate in postsecondary education programs.
In an effort to expand health care, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed the establishment of a six-month post-release special enrollment period for people who missed the opportunity to sign up for Medicare while they were incarcerated. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development has undertaken a six-month review of itsexisting regulations and guidance to identify how HUD programs can increase their inclusivity of people with arrest and conviction records.
Other actions include new grants for workforce development programs, greater opportunities to serve in the federal government and expanded access to capital for people with convictions trying to start a small business and improved reentry services for veterans.
White House Counsel Dana Remus, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Director of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond will host a roundtable this afternoon with formerly incarcerated people to discuss the impact of these efforts.
“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 said in a statement.
One in three American adults has a criminal record, according to the Brennan Center For Justice, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing and other resources to support a productive life. Reform advocates refer to this as the “second prison” because these people face widespread social stigma and more than 48,000 documented legal restrictions even after they’ve completed their sentences and left prison.
Prison Fellowship chose April as its awarness month for several reasons — including the anniversary of the Second Chance Act of 2007, a law to provide expanded services to offenders and their families for reentry into society. The Justice Department also recognizes National Reentry Week during April and the month also marks the death of Charles Colson, who used his second chance following his incarceration for a Watergate-related crime to found Prison Fellowship. And although the Second Chance movement expands beyond the faith community, the Easter season focuses on themes of redemption and second chances.
While progressive leaders will welcome today’s progress, they’ve long expressed skepticism that the pardon process is fair: All requests for executive clemency for federal offenses reviewed and investigated by the a Justice Department pardon attorney, who then makes a recommendation to the president that’s signed off by the deputy attorney general.
“There’s this inherent conflict of interest. So it’s greatly influenced by law enforcement, by prosecutorial interests. It has these redundant levels of scrutiny by [Department of Justice] staff who can unilaterally obstruct the clemency application from reaching the president,” Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said to NPR’s Juana Summers last year. “And again, behind every application is an individual, an individual connected to a family, a family that’s part of a community. So people’s lives are quite literally hanging in the balance.”
Pressley co-sponsored a bill in December 2021 with Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri that would replace the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney with a new nine-member board to review clemency cases. The board would include a formerly incarcerated person, a person who has been directly impacted by crime, an individual who has served in a federal defender organization and a representative of the Department of Justice. Members would be selected by the president. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee but has received no hearings or floor debate.
Meanwhile, negotiations for a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill have been stalled since last year.
And for months now, the White House has indicated the president will sign an executive order that will make progress until Congress gets its act together.
Senior administration officials confirmed that today’s actions don’t supercede a criminal justice executive order, which they say is still a priority for the White House.
Until then, Biden said he will continue to review clemency requests and work on reforms that advance equity, provide second chances and enhance the well-being and safety of all Americans.
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden this morning will receive his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President Harris.
Note: New White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha will make his debut in the briefing room during Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s daily briefing.
The House is in and will consider several bills to help small businesses and legislation to establish a Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture.
The Senate is in and will continue debate on the nomination of Lael Brainard to serve as vice chair of the Federal Reserve.
IN THE KNOW
— President Biden announced Bridget Brink as his nominee to be US ambassador to Ukraine. Brink is career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as the ambassador to the Slovak Republic.
— A Louisiana federal judge temporarily blocked the Biden administration from ending Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic restriction that allows border authorities to turn migrants back to Mexico or their home countries because of the public health crisis. The Biden administration had been on track to lift the authority next month.
— The Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 treatment for young children. “As COVID-19 can cause severe illness in children, some of whom do not currently have a vaccination option, there continues to be a need for safe and effective COVID-19 treatment options for this population,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Today’s approval of the first COVID-19 therapeutic for this population demonstrates the agency’s commitment to that need.”
— The Department of Veterans Affairs added nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumed service-connected disabilities due to military toxic environmental exposures. The VA will begin processing disability compensation claims for veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990, to the present, or Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001, to the present.
— Related: President Biden said in a statement refuses to repeat the mistake the US made of ignoring the needs Vietnam veterans when it comes to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “No matter where we live or who we voted for in the last election, we all agree that we should serve our veterans as well as they have served us,” he said. “My administration will continue to do everything in its power to support our nation’s veterans, and I urge Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to comprehensively address toxic exposures and further deliver the vital benefits our veterans have earned. I will sign it immediately.”
— The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals blocked the scheduled Wednesday execution of Melissa Lucio. Lucio had been set to be the first Hispanic woman put to death by the state in modern history after being convicted of beating her 2-year-old daughter to death in 2007. But new evidence has raised substantive questions about Lucio’s guilt and the fairness of her conviction. (Jolie McCullough / The Texas Tribune)
— Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom identified Christopher Schurr as the officer who killed Patrick Lyoya with a shot to the head earlier this month. Winstrom originally insisted he would withhold the officer’s name unless he was charged with a crime. Lyoya, who was unarmed, was face down on the ground when he was shot in the back of the head, moments after a traffic stop. (John Flesher, Bernard Condon and Ed White / AP News)
— ICYMI: Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion. The deal put the world’s richest man in charge of one of the world’s most influential social app, which is expected to undergo fundamental changes to its ethos and user experience. (Claire Duffy / CNN Business)
— Related: The NAACP demanded Musk uphold Twitter’s ban on Donald Trump. “Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy,” the organization said in a statement to Musk. “Protecting our democracy is of utmost importance, especially as the midterm elections approach.”
— Twitter locked down changes to its social networking platform through Friday. Twitter imposed the temporary ban to keep employees who may be miffed about the deal from “going rogue.” (Kurt Wagner and Edward Ludlow / Bloomberg)
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