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Biden Commutes 31 Federal Drug Sentences

by Jordan Arizmendi

On April 29, 2023, Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) reduced the federal prison sentences of 31 people, each serving time on home confinement for nonviolent drug-related convictions. The commutation of sentences was one component of a strategy to help people transition from incarceration to employment, the White House said.

The sentences commuted included men and women convicted of drug possession in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. Most of the convictions involved methamphetamine, but some were for possession of cocaine, heroin or marijuana. The 31 individuals were kept under home confinement until June 30, 2023, when their punishments ended. They were also not required to pay the remainder due of their fines, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

“These individuals, who have been successfully serving sentences on home confinement, have demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation, including by securing employment and advancing their education,” the White House said. “Many would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, due to changes in the law, including the bipartisan First Step Act” passed in 2018 under former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R).  

Since assuming office, Biden has commuted the sentences of 75 other people. In addition, he pardoned thousands more convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal or D.C. law, along with six other people who had already served out their sentences. They included an 80-year-old Ohio woman convicted of killing her abusive husband in 1976 and a 66-year-old Arizona man who pled guilty to using a telephone for a cocaine transaction in 1980. [See: PLN, July 2023, p.58.]

 About 600,000 U.S. citizens are released from prison every year, leaving about one-third of the adult population with a criminal record. Yet it remains a scarlet letter that can make securing employment or housing impossible.

“By investing in crime prevention and a fairer criminal justice system, we can tackle the root causes of crime, improve individual and community outcomes, and ease the burden on police,” said outgoing domestic policy adviser Susan Rice.

Sources: AP News, CBS News