President Donald Trump has pardoned Pat Nolan, a former state legislative leader in California who became a leading conservative voice for criminal justice reform after serving time for racketeering in the 1990s.
Announcing the pardon on Wednesday, the White House praised Nolan for his “tireless” advocacy for criminal justice reform and victims’ rights. It was the second pardon of the day issued by Trump, who earlier granted clemency to Conrad Black, a former media mogul who was convicted of obstruction of justice and fraud in 2007.
Nolan expressed his gratitude for Trump’s pardon in a tweet.
Nolan, who served as the leader of the Republican minority in the state assembly from 1984 to 1988, was nabbed in an FBI bribery sting dubbed “Shrimpscam” after he was secretly videotaped accepting two $5,000 checks from an undercover FBI agent. Nolan was later charged on six counts including racketeering, extortion and money laundering. To avoid the risk of a longer sentence, he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and ended up serving 25 months behind bars.
Nolan — who as a state assemblyman had been, in his own words, “very pro cop … with a get-tough-on-crime attitude” — experienced a “profound disillusionment” when he was imprisoned, according to a 2015 profile in The New Yorker.
“I had assumed [prisons] did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told the magazine. “But they were just warehousing them.”
Nolan began his prison reform advocacy work while still in jail, writing about the problems of mass incarceration and using his phone privileges to call lawmakers to discuss the issue. When he was released, he continued this work, becoming the president of the Justice Fellowship, an offshoot of the Christian nonprofit the Prison Fellowship. He now serves as director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.
In its statement, the White House listed some of Nolan’s achievements as an activist.
“Mr. Nolan’s experiences with prosecutors and in prison changed his life,” the statement said, adding: “Since his release, he has helped to secure the passage of several major criminal justice reforms, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Second Chance Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, and the FIRST Step Act.” The last of these was signed into law by Trump in December 2018.
Trump, who The Washington Post reported last year had become “fixated” with issuing pardons, has used his presidential authority to grant clemency to several of his allies and most vocal supporters. These include the conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Black, who Trump also pardoned on Wednesday, is among the president’s most avid defenders. In a book he published about Trump last year, Black celebrated the president as a leader “like no other.”