biden clemency
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley gathered outside of the White House on Friday, March 12, 2021, along with the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls to call for President Biden to grant clemency for 100 women. (CNN photo)
Listen to this article here

The Biden administration has started providing clemency for certain people who are incarcerated, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates who are eligible for clemency are those currently on home confinement due to the CARES Act. 

Moreover, the Biden administration is also closely examining people who are incarcerated due to low-level crimes, and those who are eligible for release within the next four years. 

According to White House spokesman Andrew Bates, “As President Biden has said, too many Americans are incarcerated — and too many of those incarcerated are Black and Brown. That is why the President is exploring the use of his clemency power for individuals on CARES Act home confinement. The Administration will start the clemency process with a review of non-violent drug offenders on CARES Act home confinement with four years or less to serve.”

biden clemency

Biden attempts to reduce prison population

The United States currently leads the world in incarceration rates. While there are over 10 million people incarcerated worldwide, the United States prison population is over 2 million. 

And Black citizens make up the majority of prison populations. African-Americans are incarcerated at over five times the rate of white people, with five states in which Black prisoners are imprisoned at 10 times the rate, according to the Sentencing Project.

The process of offering clemency actually began with the Trump administration, under former Attorney General William Barr. In March 2020, Barr wrote in a memo, “I am confident in our ability to keep inmates in our prisons as safe as possible from the pandemic currently sweeping across the globe. At the same time, there are some at-risk inmates who are non-violent and pose a minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in Bureau of Prison facilities.” 

biden clemency

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is continuing to expand the process. Former inmates who are at home confinement are being encouraged to submit applications seeking commutation. Specifically, people who are in prison for low-level drug crimes are being addressed by the policy. 

Supporters of prison reform are hoping that the Biden administration moves to provide clemency for other prisoners, not just those who are incarcerated for drug-related offenses. The administration has not yet commented on the number of people who are seeking commutation. 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...