President Biden’s Holiday Gift to Incarcerated: ACLU Backs Commutation of Non-Violent Drug Offenders, Embraces Clemency Initiative

By Xinhui Lin

WASHINGTON, DC – President Joe Biden provided a holiday gift to 11 incarcerated people and social justice this week when he commuted their disproportionately long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, the ACLU has pointed out.

In a historic announcement made Friday, Biden took a significant step in addressing the injustices of the failed war on drugs, which, the ACLU notes, has faced substantial criticism for contributing to mass incarceration and perpetuating racial disparities in sentencing.

According to many news reports, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act established a stark 100:1 sentencing ratio between crack cocaine, more commonly associated with Black Americans, and powder cocaine, predominantly used by white Americans.

This resulted in individuals caught with five grams of crack cocaine facing the same mandated minimum sentences as those caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine, explained the ACLU.

Director of the Justice Division at the ACLU Cynthia W. Roseberry said, “[the] war devastated whole communities by incarcerating people for longer sentences for crimes involving crack compared to powder cocaine, even though there is no chemical difference between the two substances and for marijuana possession.”

In response, the Biden administration revealed plans this week to commute the sentence of 11 individuals facing disproportionately long sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

Additionally, the President announced intentions to issue a proclamation pardoning offenses related to marijuana use and possession under federal laws and those of the District of Columbia.

This initiative aligns with the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Redemption Campaign,” which calls on elected officials, from the President to state governors, to use clemency power to liberate 50,000 people from federal and state prisons.

The announcement received strong approval and support. The ACLU’s Roseberry said, “President Biden is doing what most other Presidents have failed to do: taking needed action to confront the harms of the war on drugs.”

However, Roseberry emphasized the need for additional actions to bring about more substantial changes in rectifying past injustices. 

“If we are going to achieve permanent, meaningful change to a sentencing law that is rooted in racism and unfairness, then we need Congress to pass the EQUAL Act,” Ms. Roseberry argued, advocating for passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, which aims to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses, ensuring more fairness and racial justice in the federal criminal justice system.

The ACLU said Biden’s clemency announcement sends a strong message about the potential for redemption and the pressing need to address injustices in federal sentencing policies, underscoring “People are not disposable. When people have second chances to rebuild their lives, it leads to better family outcomes, better community outcomes, and better workforce outcomes.”

“This is consistent with historical uses of the president’s categorical clemency powers to fix a systemic injustice. It’s a significant broadening of the category of people being helped by the president’s clemency powers,” Udi Ofer, a professor at the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, said to the New York Times. 

The Times added that “people convicted of marijuana possession or use on federal land are vastly outnumbered by those who were arrested and convicted of those offenses at the state level. Only 92 people were sentenced on federal marijuana possession charges in 2017, out of nearly 20,000 drug convictions, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.”

Other additional recommendations by Biden in his initial announcement last year are still under review, including an assessment of whether marijuana should still be in the same legal category as drugs like heroin and LSD, the NY Times reported.

About The Author

Xinhui Lin is a first-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a double major in Public Affairs and Sociology on a Pre-law track. Her unwavering commitment to addressing social injustices is deeply rooted in her cultural background and her personal experiences while growing up in Shanghai, China. Xinhui keenly observed the pervasive gender and racial inequalities, the subtle yet significant discrimination against minority groups, and the everyday micro-aggressions that disenfranchised individuals face. After exploring the philosophical question regarding the intricate relationship between power, morality, and justice, Xinhui kindled her interest in the intricacies of the criminal justice system – a cornerstone of society meant to epitomize principles of justice and fairness. Her commitment to understanding and improving this system is evident in her aspirations to potentially pursue a career as an attorney, with a strong desire to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for