WASHINGTON — President Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, granting clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of federal bribery charges for attempting to sell a copy of a file to agency, and to two people with drug-related charges, but have become pillars in their communities.
The Democratic president also commuted the sentences of 75 other people for non-violent drug-related convictions. The White House announced the clemency on Tuesday as it launched a series of job training and rehabilitation programs for those in prison or recently released.
Many of those who received commutations served their sentences under house arrest during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were serving long sentences and would have received lesser sentences had they been convicted today for the same offenses following the 2018 bipartisan sentencing reform introduced into law by the Trump administration.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, of redemption and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the clemency. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates and law enforcement officials agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer communities and stronger.”
The pardons granted are:
• Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, the first black Secret Service agent to serve in a presidential detail. In 1964, Bolden, who served on President John F. Kennedy’s staff, faced federal bribery charges for attempting to sell a copy of a Secret Service file. His first trial ended in a hung jury.
Following his conviction at a second trial, key witnesses admitted to lying at the prosecutor’s request, according to the White House. Bolden, of Chicago, was denied a new trial and served three years and nine months in federal prison. Bolden has maintained his innocence and wrote a book in which he claimed he was targeted for exposing racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.
Bolden in an interview said he thought Biden “sympathized” with him and “sees the need for due process in my case.” Forgiveness came nearly 61 years after he joined the Kennedy detail. He said he asked for the detail after enduring racial slurs from fellow officers and having small nooses left around his workplace.
“I met President Kennedy on April 28, 1961, and on April 25 I learned of the presidential pardon,” said Bolden, who first sought a White House pardon during the Nixon administration. “It’s pretty close.”
• Betty Jo Bogans, 51, was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas after she attempted to transport drugs for her boyfriend and accomplice. Bogans, a single mother with no criminal record, was sentenced to seven years in prison. In the years since her release from prison, Bogans held a steady job, even while undergoing cancer treatment, and raised a son.
• Dexter Jackson, 52, of Athens, Georgia, was convicted in 2002 of using his pool hall to facilitate the trafficking of marijuana. Jackson pleaded guilty and admitted allowing his business to be used by marijuana dealers.
After his release from prison, Jackson turned his business into a cell phone repair service that employs local high school students in a program that provides young adults with work experience. Jackson has built and renovated homes in his community, which lacks affordable housing.
Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed for the White House to commute sentences and step up efforts to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s clemency grants also come as the administration has faced congressional scrutiny over misconduct and the treatment of inmates in the embattled Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving prison sentences. house arrest.
Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped advance the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and the mass incarceration of Black.
During his run for the White House in 2020, Biden pledged to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States and called for non-violent drug offenders to be diverted to drug treatment courts and treated.
He also pushed for better law enforcement training and called for changes to the criminal justice system to address disparities that have led minorities and the poor to make up a disproportionate share of the country’s prison population. .
Inimai Chettiar, federal director of the criminal justice reform advocacy group Justice Action Network, called Biden’s first pardons and commutations “just not modest” and urged Biden “to respond to the urgency of the moment.”
“President Biden has promised to help end mass incarceration, and he has broad public support for that promise,” Chettiar added.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 144 pardons and 238 clemency during his four years in office.
Some criminal justice advocates are pushing for Biden to act with more haste, calling on the president to establish a permanent clemency review committee. More than 18,000 clemency applications are pending, according to the Department of Justice. A White House official said the administration continues to review clemency requests.
Trump sought the opinion of prison reform lawyer Alice Johnson, a black woman whose life sentence he commuted for a nonviolent drug offense in 2018. He was also asked by the celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers inside the White House, including her daughter Ivanka Trump and her son. -brother-in-law Jared Kushner, as he weighed clemency requests.
The Republican has used his pardon authority to help several political friends and allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law.
Among Trump’s last acts as president, he pardoned his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Pirro, the husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro.
Prosecutors alleged that Bannon, who had not yet been tried when he was pardoned, tricked thousands of donors into thinking their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s main campaign promise to build a wall along from the southern border. Instead, Bannon allegedly embezzled more than $1 million, paying a campaign official’s salary and personal expenses for himself. Pirro was convicted in 2000 for tax charges.
With the list of pardons and commutations announced Tuesday, Biden has granted more pardons than any of the previous five presidents at this point in their terms, according to the White House.
In addition to clemency grants, Biden announced several new initiatives aimed at helping formerly incarcerated people find jobs — an issue his administration sees as key to reducing crime rates and preventing recidivism.
The Department of Labor is directing $140 million toward programs that provide job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training and pre- and post-release career counseling and more for incarcerated youth and adults.
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes a trio of grant programs that the administration says promote the hiring of formerly incarcerated people. And the Departments of Labor and Justice on Tuesday announced a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year for job training as well as individualized employment and reintegration plans for people serving a sentencing to the Bureau of Prisons.
Biden said the new initiatives are key to helping the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year get back to stable ground.
“Helping those who have served their sentence return to their families and become active members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and reduce crime,” Biden said.
Babwin reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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