Booker announces sweeping clemency plan for nonviolent drug offenders

If Sen. Cory Booker wins the 2020 presidential election, he says he’ll launch a clemency process on his first day in office for at least 17,000 nonviolent drug offenders serving “unjust and excessive sentences.”

The pledge is part of the Democrat from New Jersey’s ‘Restoring Justice Initiative.’ The plan, announced Thursday morning, was touted by the Booker campaign as the “most sweeping clemency initiative in more than 150 years.”

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The announcement highlighted Booker’s push to reform the criminal justice system, from his days on the Newark City Council and later as the city’s mayor, to his tenure in the Senate, where he helped pass the First Step Act, a law aiming to stem mass incarceration.

Booker says he would use the powers of the presidency to grant clemency to those he argues have been abused by the government’s battle against illegal drugs.

“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.

And he emphasized that “when it comes to restoring justice, we can’t be timid. As president, I will act immediately to right these wrongs, starting by initiating a clemency process for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who have been handed unjust sentences by their government. 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.”

Under Booker’s plan, those who would be immediately considered for clemency include people behind bars in federal prisons for marijuana-related offenses, individuals whose sentences would have been reduced if the First Step Act’s sentencing provisions were applied retroactively, and those currently serving long sentences due to the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

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Booker also said that he would revamp and streamline the clemency process by creating a White House-based Executive Clemency Panel.

The release of Booker’s plan comes as former Vice President Joe Biden – the front-runner right now in the Democratic presidential nomination race – has been criticized the past two months by some of his rivals for his efforts in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which many Democrats blame for spiking incarcerations, particularly among minorities.

Booker has called the law “awful” and “shameful.”

The former vice president has credited the law’s gun control provisions which he said helped him “beat the NRA.”

“Everybody talks about the bad things. Let me tell you about the good thing in the crime bill,” Biden said last month. "It’s the one that had the assault weapons ban, a limited number of bullets in a clip. It made sure that cop-killer bullets, Teflon bullets, weren’t available any longer. It opened up the whole effort to make sure there is background checks for the first time in American history.”