Biden pardons former Secret Service agent and 2 others 2022-04-26 10:00:09

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden granted his first three pardons of his term, offering clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted on federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people convicted of drug charges but which have continued to become staples in their communities.

The Democratic president also commuted sentences of 75 others on charges of nonviolent and drug-related convictions. On Tuesday, the White House announced clemency approvals, launching a series of job and return training programs for recently released or imprisoned prisoners.

Many of those who had their sentence commuted were serving their sentences in home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them were serving lengthy sentences and would have received fewer sentences had they been convicted today of the same crimes as a result of the bipartisan 2018 sentencing reform that the Trump administration brought into law.

“America is a nation of laws, second chances, redemption and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing his clemency. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, religious leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values ​​that enable stronger and safer communities.”

Those granted amnesty are:

Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, is the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential mission. In 1964, Bolden, who had served as detail to President John F. Kennedy, faced federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of the Secret Service dossier. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

After being convicted in a second trial, key witnesses admitted to lying at the prosecutor’s request, according to the White House. Bolden of Chicago was denied a retrial and spent three years and nine months in federal prison. Bolden maintained his innocence and wrote a book arguing that he was being targeted for speaking out against racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.

Bolden said in an interview that he believed Biden had “sympathy” with him and “saw the need to respect due process in my case.” The pardon came nearly 61 years after he joined Kennedy’s details, in which he said he requested the details after being subjected to racist insults from fellow agents and small hangers being left around his workplace.

“I met President Kennedy on April 28, 1961, and on April 25 I got word of a presidential pardon. That’s very close,” said Bolden, who first petitioned the White House for a pardon during the Nixon administration.

Betty Joe Bogans, 51, was convicted in 1998 of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute cocaine in Texas after attempting to transfer drugs to her boyfriend and partner. Bojans, a single mother with no prior record, was sentenced to seven years in prison. In the years since her release from prison, Bogans held steady jobs, even while undergoing treatment for cancer, and raised a son.

Dexter Jackson, 52, of Athens, Georgia, was convicted in 2002 for using a pool hall to facilitate marijuana smuggling. Jackson pleaded guilty and admitted that he allowed marijuana dealers to his company.

After Jackson was released from prison, he turned his business into a cell phone repair service that hires local high school students through a program that provides young people with work experience. Jackson has built and renovated homes in his community, which suffers from a shortage of affordable housing.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed the White House to reduce sentences and work harder to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s clemency grants also come as the administration faces congressional scrutiny over misconduct and treatment of inmates at the beleaguered Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving home confinement sentences.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden in his first transition to his presidency focused on petitions from individuals with less than four years to serve.

Biden, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped sponsor a 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentencing and mass incarceration for blacks.

During his 2020 White House run, Biden pledged to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States and called for nonviolent drug offenders to be transferred to drug and treatment courts.

He has also pushed for better law enforcement training and called for changes in the criminal justice system to address the disparities that have resulted in minorities and the poor making up a disproportionate share of the country’s incarcerated population.

Inimai Chettiar, federal director of the Justice Action Network advocating for criminal justice reform, called Biden’s initial pardons and commutations “merely modest steps” and urged Biden to “meet the urgency of the moment.”

Chettiar added: “President Biden made a promise to help end mass detention, and he has broad popular support for that promise.”

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 144 pardons and clemencies to 238 during his four years in office.

Some criminal justice advocates are pressing Biden to act with more haste, calling for the president to create a permanent clemency review board. According to the Ministry of Justice, there are still more than 18,000 applications for pardons pending.

The amnesty and mitigation is “just the beginning,” White House counsel Dana Remus said in a virtual roundtable discussion Tuesday with formerly incarcerated people hosted by the Biden administration.

“The president will continue to review pardon petitions over the coming months,” Remus said. “And we will continue all of this very important work in supporting former detainees in creating second chances and ensuring that our criminal justice system is more just and equal.”

Trump sought the advice of prison reform advocate Alice Johnson, a black woman whose life sentence was commuted for a nonviolent drug offense in 2018. He has also been lobbied by celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers within the White House, including daughter Ivanka Trump. and her son. In-law Jared Kushner, as he weighs requests for clemency.

The Republican has used his pardon power to help several friends and political allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican activist Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law.

Among Trump’s recent acts as president are the pardons of former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Perot, ex-husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Perot.

Prosecutors alleged that Bannon, who has yet to stand trial upon pardon, deceived thousands of donors into believing their money would be used to fulfill a major Trump campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, Bannon allegedly transferred more than $1 million, paying a salary to a campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Pirro was convicted in 2000 on tax charges.

With the pardon and mitigation list announced Tuesday, Biden has issued more clemency grants than any of the five previous presidents at this point, according to the White House.

In addition to granting clemency, Biden has announced several new initiatives aimed at helping formerly incarcerated people obtain work — an issue his administration is driving home as key to lowering crime rates and preventing recidivism.

The Department of Labor directs $140 million toward programs that provide job training, pre-vocational programs, digital literacy training, pre- and post-release career counseling and more for youth and inmates.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes three grant programs that the administration says boost the employment of formerly incarcerated individuals. On Tuesday, the Departments of Labor and Justice announced a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year for job skills training as well as individualized employment and return plans for people who spend time in the Bureau of Prisons.

Biden said new initiatives are needed to help the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year on stable ground.

“Helping those who have spent their time returning to their families and becoming contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and reduce crime,” Biden said.

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Babwin reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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