LISA newsletters, Vol. 9, No. 17 (April 24, 2023)
In honor of President Biden's March 31 proclamation marking April as Second Chance Month, the Dept. of Justice's Office of Pardon Attorney (OPA) hosted "A Celebration of Second Chances" last Friday.
The even featured DOJ speakers and prior clemency or compassionate release recipients, who discussed "the impact of second changes through clemency." OPA said in a press release that it "is dedicated to supporting the President's work to provide second chances to individuals who are currently incarcerated by the federal justice system."
Rarely has dedication been accompanied by such institutional failure. About 18,000 clemency petitions languish on file at DOJ, many dating from the Obama era. When elected, Biden promised a restructuring of the clemency process to expand its use and remove what he saw as excesses of the Trump era. That never happened. Biden granted clemency to 81 people last year (as well as people with federal marijuana possession, none of whom was in prison for the offense, had filed for clemency, or, for that matter, has even been publicly identified).
On an ACLU podcast last week, Cynthia Roseberry, Acting Director of the ACLU's Justice Division, called on Biden "to retrospectively give clemency to people who have been charged previously and are sentenced disparately because they were charged with crack cocaine" during Second Chance Month.
Don't count on that happening. But let's celebrate presidential dedication to meaningless, symbolic pardons rather than addressing injustice and prison overcrowding.
DOJ Office of Pardon Attorney, Second Chance Month 2023 (April 12)
ACLU, Clemency is One Answer to the War on Drugs (April 20)