WASHINGTON – The nation’s first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail, now 86 years old living in Chicago, who has worked decades to clear his name for a crime he has said he didn’t commit.
A 51-year-old woman from Houston who served seven years in prison for attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and accomplice – neither of whom faced charges.
And a 52-year-old man from Athens, Georgia, who partners with schools to employ youth at his cellphone repair company, two decades after he was charged with letting pot dealers use his pool hall to sell drugs.
Three convicted felons – Abraham Bolden Sr., Betty Jo Bogans and Dexter Eugene Jackson – received presidential pardons Tuesday from President Joe Biden, along with 75 others whose sentences the president commuted, in the first use of clemency power of the Biden presidency.
All of Biden’s commutations target low-level drug offenders with less than four years remaining in their prison sentences. Some have served on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are Black or brown, and the White House said each has displayed efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
What to know:Biden pardoned 3 felons. Here’s what to know about presidential clemency powers
The clemency announcements, which coincided with national “Second Chance Month,” came as Biden also announced new actions aimed at improving outcomes for felons who reenter society as part of a broader strategy to reform the criminal justice system. Efforts include $145 million for a federal program to train the incarcerated for future employment and the removal of criminal history in applications for Small Business Administration grants.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.”
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Under the Constitution, the president has the power to grant clemency to forgive convictions. A pardon represents a full legal forgiveness for a crime, removing any remaining prison sentence, probation conditions or unpaid fines as well as collateral consequences to allow felons to vote, hold professional licenses, run for public office or own a gun.
A commutation is a narrower grant of mercy used to shorten a prison sentence while leaving the conviction intact. Many of Biden’s commutations leave intact home confinement or supervised release terms.
With Tuesday’s action, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has granted clemency to more people at this point in a first term than each of his five immediate predecessors. “That is because this is a priority to the president,” she said, adding that Biden will continue to review clemency applications.
The individuals granted clemency came at the recommendation of the Department of Justice’s pardon attorney, according to senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters ahead announcement. It marks the return of a practice that was largely bypassed by former President Donald Trump, whose clemency requests often came through close aides.
Biden said the three people pardoned have each “demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities.”
The highest-profile pardon is Bolden, a former Secret Service agent appointed by then-President John F. Kennedy. In 1964, Bolden was charged with trying to sell a copy of a U.S. Secret Service file. Bolden, who always maintained his innocence, was convicted even though some witnesses who testified against him admitted lying at the request of the prosecutor.
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Bolden has said he was the target of retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the Secret Service.
Nearly one-third of the 75 commutation recipients would have received lower sentences had they had been charged today under the Trump-era criminal justice law, the First Step Act, according to senior Biden administration officials. They have served an average of 10 years in prison and have “shown resilience” in seeking a productive path forward, a White House official said.
The actions come as Biden faces pressure from criminal justice advocates to take action on police accountability via executive power after legislative efforts have failed. A White House official said Tuesday’s announcements do not supplant the president’s police accountability efforts.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.
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