The White House has announced that several non-violent prison sentences will be pardoned. Abraham Bolden, the first black ‘Secret Service’ agent in US history, was among the first to receive this pardon. 

Joe Biden

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Pardon Handout

The White House has announced that 75 people’s prison sentences, most serving time on low-level drug offenses, have been shortened.  One of the three people to be pardoned was Abraham Bolden. 

Abraham Bolden started out as a highway patrolman. In 1961, he was appointed to President John Kennedy’s security detail, the first Black man to be. He was just 26 years old.

According to him, President Kennedy once introduced him as “the Jackie Robinson of the Secret Service”. However, in 1964, Bolden was fired from the Service for trying to sell a government file for a $50,000 bribe.

Bolden denied the allegations, claiming he was being framed for his attempts to expose misconduct within the agency. Abraham’s accusations covered Secret Service agents who drank heavily on the job, missed their shifts, and the misuse of their official vehicles to transport women or visit bars. He also said he had faced racial discrimination from co-workers.

The former agent raised money for his legal defense through a series of piano recitals in Chicago. His first trial ended in a mistrial but he was convicted at his second trial. The former agent was sentenced to 15 years, even after witnesses said they were “pressured into lying by prosecutors”.  Bolden served 39 months in federal prison, with two-and-a-half-year probation.

New Measures

The US constitution grants the president the authority to forgive convictions or shorten sentences, with Tuesday’s ‘grants of clemency’ the first of the Biden administration.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” the president said.

“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 [repeat offending] and decrease crime.”

President Biden wrote that all Bolden and two others who would be pardoned “have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities”.

Pardons do not necessarily mean the person is declared innocent but do remove restrictions imposed by the conviction. Many of the 75 Americans whose sentences were shortened on Tuesday “would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today” thanks to recent criminal justice reforms, Biden stated, with several already under house arrest because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also on Tuesday, the White House announced a series of new measures aimed at helping former prisoners successfully re-enter society. Some of these measures include a $145 million federal program for job training and employment support, as well as expanded access to housing, health care, etc, including by removing criminal history from federal small business grant applications.