President Joe Biden announced Tuesday morning that he has granted clemency to 78 individuals, all of whom were convicted of low-level drug offenses or nonviolent crimes. Three people were pardoned, and 75 received commutations of their sentences.
It’s the first time Biden has exercised his constitutional clemency powers as president. Many of the people granted commutations were convicted years ago of crimes that today carry much lighter sentences. In a call with reporters Monday evening, White House officials said that if the people who received clemency were charged or convicted of any of the crimes in 2022, about a third of them would have received a lesser sentence.
Two of the pardons went to people with low-level drug offenses, and the third was given to Abraham Bolden Sr., an 86-year-old former U.S. Secret Service agent and the first Black person to serve on a presidential detail.
Bolden was accused of trying to sell a copy of a Secret Service file in 1964. Bolden maintained his innocence throughout his first trial, which resulted in a hung jury.
Key witnesses against him in a second trial admitted they had lied at the prosecutor’s request, but Bolden was ultimately denied a new trial and spent several years in federal custody, White House officials said. Bolden maintained he was being punished because he exposed “unprofessional and racist” behavior within the Secret Service. He received a six-year sentence, which he finished in the late 1960s, according to the officials who gave details Monday on Biden’s actions.
Betty Jo Bogans, 51, was pardoned for her conviction of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas in 1998. Bogans was transporting drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice, neither of whom were detained or arrested. Bogans received a seven-year sentence.
Dexter Jackson, 52, of Georgia, was convicted in 2002 of using his business to aid in the facilitation of marijuana distribution. Though Jackson never distributed any drugs, he allowed marijuana dealers to use his pool hall to distribute the pot. Jackson pleaded guilty and served prison time; since his release from custody, he has operated a cellphone repair service and has hired high school students through a program that gives youths job opportunities, the White House officials said.
Biden also announced an effort to support reentry into society after release from prison. This includes a new collaboration between the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor that will provide job training, grants for workforce development and capital for people starting businesses after being released from prison. There will also be opportunities to join the federal workforce, the White House officials said.
The departments of justice and labor are investing $145 million over the 2022-2023 fiscal year to provide jobs and skill training to people seeking employment opportunities as they re-acclimate to life after incarceration. The initiative is a part of the First Step Act, signed by former President Donald Trump in 2020, and it’s the first time the Labor Department will begin working with prisoners, officials said.
Biden described Tuesday’s actions as part of a “comprehensive strategy” to tackle the rise in gun violence and an uptick in homicides across the country’s major cities.
“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,” Biden said in a statement.
“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.”