Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate, issued a sharp rebuke last week of the Biden administration’s decision to commute the sentences of dozens of individuals incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.
In remarks made on the Senate floor last Wednesday, McConnell bemoaned what he described as a “crime spree” in his home state of Kentucky and elsewhere in the country, which he attributed to “President Biden’s failure to secure our borders.”
“We need officials at all levels to back the blue, crack down on crime, and reestablish law and order,” McConnell said. “But the Biden Administration gives us the opposite.”
McConnell’s comments came a day after the White House announced that the president would be using his clemency powers for the first time by commuting the sentences of 75 individuals currently serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and issuing three full pardons.
The action came as part of what the Biden administration dubbed “Second Chance Month” during April.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the action. “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. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.”
“Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities,” he continued. “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.”
In his floor remarks, McConnell criticized the administration for the commutations and pardons.
“Just yesterday, the President issued a giant catalog of pardons and commutations, cutting sentence after sentence, particularly for convicted drug criminals,” McConnell said. “They never miss an opportunity to send the wrong signal. And until federal, state, and local Democrats get with the program, innocent people in Louisville and across the country will continue to suffer.”
Among the three individuals to receive a pardon is Betty Jo Bogans of Houston. Bogans, 51, “was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in the Southern District of Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice, neither of whom were detained or arrested,” according to the White House.
“At the time of her conviction, Ms. Bogans was a single mother with no prior record, who accepted responsibility for her limited role in the offense,” the White House explained. “Because of the harsh penalties in place at the time, she was convicted, Ms. Bogan received a seven-year sentence. In the nearly two decades since her release from custody, Ms. Bogans has held consistent employment, even while undergoing treatment for cancer, and has focused on raising her son.”
Dexter Jackson, a 52-year-old from Athens, Georgia, also received a pardon stemming from a 2002 conviction “for using his business to facilitate the distribution of marijuana in the Northern District of Georgia.”
“Mr. Jackson was not personally involved in trafficking marijuana, but allowed marijuana distributors to use his pool hall to facilitate drug transactions,” the White House said. “He accepted full responsibility for his actions at the time he was charged and pled guilty. Since his release from custody, Mr. Jackson has converted his business into a cell-phone repair service and hired local high school students through a program that seeks to provide young adults with work experience. Mr. Jackson has also worked to build and renovate homes in a community that lacks quality affordable housing.”