President Biden is granting his first pardons and commutations to 78 people convicted mostly of nonviolent drug offenses, part of a broader White House effort to address inequities in the criminal-justice system, reports the Wall Street Journal. Biden is issuing pardons to three people and reducing the sentences of 75 others, many of whom had already been released to home confinement in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in prisons. Those receiving pardons include a former Secret Service agent who spent several years in prison after a conviction for trying to sell a copy of his Secret Service file; a 51-year-old woman who received a seven-year sentence for trying to transport crack cocaine for her boyfriend and an accomplice; and a man who pleaded guilty in 2002 to letting marijuana dealers use his pool hall to facilitate transactions. Biden faced criticism from prisoner-rights groups and other activists who complained that the White House was moving too slowly on clemency and changes to sentencing policy, issues that played prominently in his campaign.
“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,” Biden said. All three who were pardoned have sought to improve their lives and communities in the years since they were released from prison, administration officials said. Those receiving pardons and commutations were chosen through an effort that involved the White House Counsel’s Office and the Justice Department, a shift from former President Trump’s approach to clemency that largely relied instead on the recommendations of political leaders, criminal-justice advocates and his friends and allies. The White House is unveiling other measures aimed at expanding employment opportunities for people after leaving prison, helping people with convictions start small businesses and providing access to health care, housing and educational opportunities.