Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, pledged to immediately grant clemency to more than 11,000 individuals currently in federal prison for marijuana-related offenses if elected to the Oval Office.
In total, an estimated 17,000 people serving time for drug offenses would likely be eligible.
Booker said he would use the power of presidential pardon to help redress the failings of the criminal justice system’s War on Drugs, which has disproportionately harmed people of color and low-income individuals even though drug-use rates are almost identical along class and racial lines.
“Granting clemency won’t repair all the damage that has been done by the War on Drugs and our broken criminal justice system, but it will help our country confront this injustice and begin to heal,” Booker wrote in a statement outlining his plan.
Booker has made far-reaching criminal justice reform a focal point of his presidential campaign. He previously submitted a comprehensive, restorative justice-focused marijuana legalization bill to Congress in February, and also authored the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill now signed into law by President Trump which reduces sentences for drug crimes largely impacting minority groups.
As well as offering clemency to people serving time for marijuana-related offenses, Booker’s “Restorative Justice Initiative” would retroactively apply the First Step Act to individuals serving minimum drug sentences, as well as those serving more time due to sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine.
Booker’s plan would entail an executive order compelling the Bureau of Prisons, the Defender Services Division of the U.S. Courts, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to begin the process of identifying eligible individuals for clemency.
The clemency process itself would also be reformed by establishing a federal interagency council responsible for “identifying job and training opportunities, investing in rehabilitation programs, and targeting evidence-based social services” for those granted clemency.
An executive panel would also be formed to review eligible cases, and they would begin proceedings with the presumption of recommending clemency, unless doing so is deemed to present a threat to the public. Currently, the clemency process is a lengthy one entailing a number of steps through the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office.
“Progress has been far too slow, and thousands of people continue to languish in prison — brick-and-mortar warehouses of human potential,” Booker said. “The impact of the failed War on Drugs is not limited to those presently incarcerated; across the country, families and communities have been hollowed out by missing fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters.”