Washington, DC (April 28, 2023) – On April 28, President Biden commuted the sentences of 31 individuals convicted of drug offenses, including several for marijuana distribution, announcing the reprieve as part of a broader effort to help those who have completed federal sentences reenter society. The commutations leave their convictions in place but reduce or excuse any remaining sentences.
This represents another small but meaningful act by President Biden to fulfill his campaign pledge to address America’s crisis of criminalization and the system of mass incarceration it fuels. The White House simultaneously released its Alternatives, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Strategic Plan, outlining steps the administration recommends to help formerly incarcerated individuals access services such as health care, housing, education, and employment. For example, the plan includes $486 million in grants and 3,300 rental assistance vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist with housing issues. The plan would also implement a special Medicare enrollment period for individuals who have been released from prison.
NACDL President Nellie King stated:
“NACDL is elated for the few individuals and families who will benefit from President Biden’s actions. While commutations are necessary and should absolutely be celebrated when granted, this rare form of relief is a last resort for incarcerated individuals. As the nation’s defense bar, NACDL strongly supports robust use of the executive clemency power but also calls on policymakers to prevent injustices before they occur by: exposing and reforming police misconduct, safeguarding privacy, fighting for the right to trial, protecting against overzealous prosecution, reforming sentencing laws, strengthening public defense and the sixth amendment right to counsel, and redressing rampant racial disparity at every level of our criminal legal system. If President Biden wants to uphold his campaign promises to address these issues, he will need to work with Congress to fix the terrible policies that plague our criminal legal system, such as the 1994 crime bill he helped write.”
NACDL Executive Director Lisa Wayne stated:
“The announcement represents an incremental step toward correcting the racial injustice of the failed war on drugs which blatantly targeted communities of color, and we look forward to many more similar commutations in the months ahead. We congratulate the recipients, their attorneys, and their loved ones on this joyous occasion, but we are disappointed that this mercy was extended to so few. There are thousands of people like the recipients today who are currently incarcerated and meet the criteria for a second look and relief. There is no greater evidence of the failures of our legal system than the stories of those behind bars and the toll their incarceration takes on their families and communities. These are people who have more than paid their debts to society and deserve a second chance. While we welcome today’s recipients home and hope they can access resources to help with reentry, we will keep fighting for a system that prioritizes fairness and redemption and rejects senselessly cruel punishment.”
Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or email@example.com