A week before he is scheduled to appear at the Democratic presidential debates, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has released a plan that would extend clemency to “people serving excessive sentences” for drug crimes.
Booker’s plan would grant clemency to some 17,000 people. As The New York Times reported, his would be the greatest clemency initiative since the Civil War.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people, tearing families apart, ruining lives, and disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income individuals — all without making us safer,” Booker said in a statement.
The proposal is rooted in legislation Booker introduced and passed in the Senate. He is the only 2020 candidate to propose addressing mass incarceration and criminal justice reform with a clemency program.
If elected, he said he would initiate “a clemency process for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who have been handed unjust sentences by their government.”
Booker’s plan, which he is calling the “Restoring Justice Initiative,” would start a clemency process “for an estimated 17,000-plus nonviolent drug offenders serving unjust and excessive sentences — representing the most sweeping clemency initiative in more than 150 years.”
Booker’s proposal adds another agenda item for his first day in office. He already has said he would create an Office of Reproductive Freedom on the first day of his presidency.
There are three groups of individuals who would immediately be eligible for clemency consideration:
- People serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses;
- People whose sentences would have been reduced under the First Step Act, which curtailed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses, had it been retroactively applied when it was signed on December 21, 2018;
- People whose prison sentences have been extended because of racist disparities in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine.
Much of his announcement details the racist disparities in sentencing in the United States, which imprisons a far greater proportion of its citizens than any other nation.
Booker cites data from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that reveals it costs the federal government $9.2 million a day to incarcerate people charged with drug-related offenses. (ThinkProgress is a editorially independent project housed within CAP):
Though evidence shows no difference in the rate at which Black and white Americans use and sell drugs, Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for doing so; once convicted, Black male offenders in the federal courts receive sentences 19.1 percent longer than those received by white male offenders.
Booker would create a bipartisan Executive Clemency Panel which would operate out of the White House and would “make policy recommendations to the administration and Congress to facilitate their successful reentry, including identifying job and training opportunities, investing in rehabilitation programs, and targeting evidence-based social services.”
His plan would also “give a special presumption for release” for individuals who are at least 50 years old and who are unlikely to reoffend. A senior White House official would be appointed to advise Booker on criminal justice matters “charged with advancing a proactive reform agenda.”