It’s common for presidents to render presidential pardons toward the end of the 2nd term in office, but President Biden has already begun to issue pardons midway through his first term. The president granted his first three pardons this week.
He gave clemency to a Secret Service agent who was convicted during the Kennedy presidency of federal bribery charges. Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, was the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on presidential detail. In 1964, he attempted to sell a copy of the agencies’ files and his first trial ended in a hung jury in his 2nd trial key witnesses admitted to lying to the prosecutor. After serving his time, Bolden wrote a book declaring his innocence and revealing that he believed he was targeted for speaking out against racism in the Secret Service.
Biden also gave two people a pardon who were convicted on drug-related charges but have since become upstanding members of their communities.
Biden also commuted the sentences of 75 people who had been convicted of nonviolent or drug-related crimes. The White House administration announced these actions as they began a series of job training and reentry programs for those incarcerated or recently released.
The president said in a public statement that America was a nation of laws and “second chances, redemption and rehabilitation.”
He went further explaining, “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.”
These moves by the president have some irony. In 1994, Biden was the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he was the main force in getting a crime bill passed that experts say contributed to harsh sentencing and many people of color being incarcerated.
But during the 2020 presidential campaign, the new Biden promised to reduce the number of people sent to prison in the United States. He challenged that nonviolent drug offenders be moved to drug-focused courts with treatment. During the run for the presidency, Biden called for criminal justice changes that would address a process that led to people of color being incarcerated at a disproportionate level.
The federal director of the criminal justice reform advocacy group called Justice Action Network, Inimai Chettiar, said that Biden’s actions this week were “just modest steps.” He wants Biden to “meet the urgency of the moment.”
“President Biden ran on a promise to help end mass incarceration, and he has broad public support for that promise,” Chettiar added.
Advocates like Chettiar are calling on Biden to establish a permanent clemency review board because there are over 18,000 clemency petitions pending now.
President Biden also just announced new initiatives that will aid those who have been released from prison to help them find employment. The White House has said that this focus will serve to lower crime rates and prevent recidivism. The administration is putting $140 million toward these programs that provide job counseling, training, and digital literacy classes.
These programs come alongside grant programs that were within the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was recently passed by Congress. Biden’s team said that these grants will promote hiring those who were recently released from the prison system. There will also be $145 million given over the next year for job skills training from both the Labor and Justice Departments.
President Biden maintains that all of these initiatives will help more than 600,000 people who are released from America’s prisons each year. The president said that helping those who served their time get back to their families and become “contributing members of their communities” will be effective in reducing recidivism and decreasing future crime.
One question remains…Is Biden already starting this process because he thinks he is a one-term president?