President Biden is taking his first actions on clemency since he entered the White House, pardoning three people and shortening the prison terms of 75 more on Tuesday.
White House officials say the president thinks too many people — many of them Black and brown — are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes. The pardons and commutations are part of a broader White House effort to make the criminal justice system more fair , which was a key goal of Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Many of those whose sentences Biden shortened have already been on home confinement and also would have received shorter sentences under new drug laws.
Biden pardoned Abraham Bolden of Chicago, the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential detail. Bolden has always maintained his innocence, arguing he was targeted for exposing racism and misconduct. He is now 86 years old.
Biden also pardoned Betty Jo Bogans of Houston. Bogans, 51, and Dexter Eugene Jackson, 52, of Athens, Ga., served time in prison for nonviolent drug-related offenses.
Reform advocates hailed the news as progress, but expressed concern that Biden has been too slow to grant clemency and shorten sentences.
As part of the effort to address inequities in the justice system, the White House announced new steps to help those reentering society after incarceration, including expanding hiring for formerly incarcerated people. The Biden administration will allocate $145 million to developing “reentry plans” for incarcerated persons, which would connect them to resources, such as jobs, housing and loans upon being released.
Biden said in a statement that “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.”
The plan will mostly be funded by grants, according to the White House.
According to the White House, correctional facilities should coordinate job fairs and provide skills training for literacy, digital literacy and numeracy. And upon being released, formerly incarcerated persons should be connected to services, such as help with writing resumes and interviewing for jobs.
“Formerly incarcerated persons are an underutilized talent pool despite employers attesting that formerly incarcerated persons are often some of their best and most dedicated employees,” a statement said.
Several federal agencies have announced their plans to participate in the initiative.
The Department of Education will be adding 73 postsecondary institutions to its roster of participants in the federal Second Chance Pell Initiative program, which provide tuition grants to those who were previously incarcerated.
The Small Business Administration is expected to announced this week it is removing restrictions it has on borrowers having prior convictions, opening up access for its loans, such as its Microloans, 504 loans and Community Advantage loan for low-income borrowers, the White House said.
In February 2021, the SBA relaxed its rules on entrepreneurs having criminal records for its Paycheck Protection Program loan.
The Office of Personnel Management is expanding the number of job positions within the federal government that are covered by its “ban the box” policy, which prohibits employers from asking about criminal history on job applications.
Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services is considering creating a special enrollment period of six months after a person is released from prison to sign up for Medicare.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency is taking six months to analyze its current regulations to see where it can better include people with prior convictions.
Biden made criminal justice reform a key part of his 2020 presidential campaign, including tackling issues such as over-incarceration and racial and socioeconomic disparities. Criminal justice reform advocates acknowledge Biden has made positive moves, such as rescinding a memo from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, to push prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges they could for a crime. But they also say the federal prison population has increased by thousands of inmates during Biden’s tenure.