Discover more from Law Dork
Joe Biden's clemency moves ignore the mass incarceration that he helped to create
"We can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime," candidate Joe Biden promised. As he approaches two years in office, he has failed to do so.
On Friday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden had issued six (6) pardons.
Biden pardoned 1/3 as many turkeys in November as he did humans in December.
Before Friday, he had issued three (3) individual pardons to humans during his time in office.
There remains a backlog of more than 3,500 federal pardon applications, according to the administration’s own Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Biden did also issue the mass pardon involving federal charges or convictions for simple possession of marijuana earlier this year. At the time, a senior administration official said that “over 6,500 people with prior federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana and thousands of such convictions under D.C. law” were estimated to potentially benefit from the pardon. Unlike an individual pardon, however, people will only receive a certification that they have received a pardon if they apply for it.
Biden has also issued 80 commutations — a move that shortens a person’s sentence, though not necessarily to the point of meaning that they will be released from prison as a result — thus far in his time in office, although no additional commutations were announced on Friday.
There remains, however, a backlog of nearly 14,000 commutation applications, again, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Law Dork, with Chris Geidner, is independent, reader-supported legal and political journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
President Joe Biden’s clemency efforts thus far are woefully insufficient.
“We can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime,” candidate Joe Biden promised in the very first bullet point of his criminal justice plan.
And yet, despite congressional pleas for action, the backlog remains.
All nine individual pardons were granted to people who had already completed their sentences, as is a requirement in the Justice Department application process.
The marijuana pardons, the administration acknowledged, did not result in a single person being let out of prison.
The largest group of commutations, issued during “Second Chance Month” in April, involved many people who were already out of prison and on home confinement. Biden acknowledged as much in his statement announcing the move.
“I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic—and many of whom would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act,” he said at the time.
Clemency is obviously not a solution to mass incarceration, but it is an area completely within Biden’s control. Thus far, he has not used it to address mass incarceration in any meaningful way.
As clemency experts Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler put it earlier this month, Biden has shown a “cowardice” when it comes to clemency.
Friday did nothing to change that.
Thanks for reading Law Dork! Subscribe now — and consider a paid subscription before the start of the new year to support this work.