WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people, including three in the Carolinas, for nonviolent, drug-related convictions. The White House announced the clemencies as it launched a series of job training and reentry programs for those in prison or recently released.
Many of those who received commutations have been serving their sentences on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were serving lengthy sentences and would have received lesser terms had they been convicted today for the same offenses as a result of the 2018 bipartisan sentencing reform ushered into law by the Trump administration.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the clemencies. “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.”
Those granted pardons in the Carolinas are:
Kelvin Beaufort, Charlotte: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. He was sentenced in 2007 to 324 months of imprisonment and a 20-year term of supervised release; that was amended in 2016 to 262 months of imprisonment, and a 20-year term of supervised release.
Beaufort’s sentence was commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement. The 20-year term of supervised release will be left in effect.
Court records show in May 2020, Beaufort asked for compassionate release because of the “uncontrolled spread of COVID-19″ at his prison. The motion said since Beaufort was sentenced, his health had deteriorated. He has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair, and he was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure, the motion read. His lawyer said he was concerned those pre-existing conditions added risk factors should he contract COVID-19.
The motion was denied without prejudice in Aug. 2021.
Christopher Gunter, Columbia, S.C.: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and 100 kilograms or more of marijuana; possession with intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana and a quantity of MDMA. He was sentenced in 2008 to 240 months of imprisonment and a 10-year term of supervised release.
Gunter’s sentence was commuted to expire on Aug. 24, 2022. The 10-year term of supervised release will be left in effect.
Vincent Edward Kennedy, Surfside Beach, S.C.: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine; money laundering. He was sentenced in 2014 to 180 months of imprisonment with a 10-year term of supervised release; that was amended in 2015 to 145 months of imprisonment and a 10-year term of supervised release.
Kennedy’s sentence was commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement. His 10-year term of supervised release will be left in effect.
Advocates for criminal justice reform have persistently asked for commuted sentences
Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed the White House to commute sentences and work harder to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s grants of clemency also come as the administration has faced congressional scrutiny over misconduct and the treatment of inmates in the beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving sentences of home confinement.
Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped shepherd through the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and mass incarceration of Black people.
During his 2020 White House run, Biden vowed to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and called for nonviolent drug offenders to be diverted to drug courts and treatment.
He also has pushed for better training for law enforcement and called for criminal justice system changes to address disparities that have led to minorities and the poor making up a disproportionate share of the nation’s incarcerated population.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 143 pardons and clemency to 237 during his four years in office.
Trump sought the advice of prison reform advocate Alice Johnson, a Black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense he commuted in 2018. He was also lobbied by celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers inside the White House, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as he weighed applications for clemency.
Trump used his pardon authority to help several political friends and allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father-in-law of Ivanka Trump.
Among Trump’s final acts as president was pardoning his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Pirro, the husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro.
With the slate of pardons and commutations announced Tuesday, Biden has issued more grants of clemency than any of the previous five presidents at this point in their terms, according to the White House.
Biden announces initiatives to help formerly incarcerated enter workforce
In addition to the grants of clemency, Biden announced several new initiatives that are meant to help formerly incarcerated people gain employment — an issue that his administration is driving home as key to lowering crime rates and preventing recidivism.
The Labor Department is directing $140 million toward programs that offer job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training and pre-release and post-release career counseling and more for youth and incarcerated adults.
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes a trio of grant programs that the administration says promote hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals. And the Labor and Justice Departments announced on Tuesday a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year on job skills training as well as individualized employment and reentry plans for people serving time in the Bureau of Prisons.
Biden said the new initiatives are vital to helping the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year get on stable ground.
“Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime,” Biden said.
On Tuesday, Governor Cooper is expected to speak at the North Carolina Reentry Conference in Greensboro. The Department of Public Safety said the conference will convene people from across the state to “share best practices, exchange ideas and create networking opportunities to support successful reentry in North Carolina.”
Cooper is slated to speak at the conference in the morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(WATCH BELOW: Davidson College student advocates to get childhood friend released from prison early to start new life)
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