WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday granted clemency to nearly 80 individuals charged with nonviolent crimes and unveiled an administration strategy to help formerly incarcerated people secure employment.
Of that list, three were pardons and 75 were commutations, which is a reduction in an individual’s prison sentence. They were the first pardons and commutations of Biden’s presidency, a power granted under the Constitution.
“The president believes that our nation must offer people who’ve been incarcerated meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation, and his granting of three pardons and 75 sentence commutations for individuals who were convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, including many of whom have been serving successfully on home confinement, reflect that core belief,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters Monday night.
One pardon was for 52-year-old Athens, Georgia resident Dexter Eugene Jackson, who pleaded guilty and was convicted in 2002 for using his business to distribute marijuana.
A senior administration official said Jackson did not distribute marijuana, but allowed distributors to use his pool hall to conduct drug transactions. He currently runs a cell phone repair business where he helps train local high school students so they can gain work experience, the White House said.
“This first wave of clemency grants really does reflect President Biden’s commitment to address inequities in the criminal justice system and his commitment to reward individuals who are working to rehabilitate themselves and to contribute to their communities,” an official said on the call.
U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement praised the Biden administration for its reentry program.
“Successful reentry programs are critical to breaking the cycle of crime in our communities and providing economic security to thousands of formerly incarcerated people,” he said.
A majority of the individuals that are receiving sentencing commutations have already served an average of 10 years in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, a senior administration official said.
“The individuals who are receiving sentence commutations … include people who have demonstrated commitment to rehabilitation, including by seeking employment and advancing their education,” an official said.
The officials said that about 600,000 people each year leave prison and have difficulty securing housing, health care and work opportunities. Officials said “offering someone a second chance” reduces the likelihood of reoffending and will help “prevent and combat gun violence and other violent crime.”
The White House also said it’s rolling out a $145 million dollar partnership between the departments of Justice and Labor for job training and intensive reentry programs in federal prisons.
Additionally, the administration will expand access to federal employment for formerly incarcerated people. The Office of Personnel Management is moving to publish a proposed rule to remove the federal government’s “ban the box” policy, which delays movement on a job seeker’s application if there is a criminal history.
The administration is also expanding the Second Chance Pell program, which provides Pell Grants to incarcerated students. It will include 73 more schools, bringing the total number of colleges participating in the program to 204.