President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. released a statement today regarding Second Chance Month and actions his administration is taking “to support those re-entering society after incarceration.” Among these actions, the President announced that he is pardoning “three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities” as well as “commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic—and many of whom would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act.”
April has been recognized as Second Chance Month in the United States of America every year since 2017, when a house resolution to recognize the month first garnered bipartisan support.
Governor Kate Brown released a statement responding to the efforts, saying, “I applaud President Biden for commuting and pardoning these 78 individuals, who are committed to rehabilitation and their communities. We are a nation of second chances—and that means giving another chance even to Oregonians who have committed crimes that are incredibly hard to forgive.”
The Governor’s full statement can be read below.
“I applaud President Biden for pardoning and commuting the sentences of 78 individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and giving back to their communities.
We are a state and a nation of second chances. And that means giving another chance even to Oregonians who have committed crimes that are incredibly hard to forgive. Granting clemency is an extraordinary act that comes with great responsibility––and I deny the vast majority of the requests for clemency my office receives. Clemency is an action I reserve for individuals who have demonstrated that they have made incredible changes in their lives to rehabilitate themselves, take accountability for their crimes, and dedicate themselves to making their communities a better place.
Over the past two years, I have granted clemency to nonviolent adults in custody who faced health risks due to COVID-19, adults in custody who battled the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, and Oregonians facing unjustly long sentences for crimes they committed in their youth––sentences teenagers would not receive today had they committed the same crimes.
Much has been said about my decision to commute the sentences of a group of individuals last fall. But what is also very clear is that teenagers, even those who have committed terrible crimes, have a unique capacity for growth and change. Many young people who have been raised in challenging environments, given the right supports, can turn their lives around and become contributing members of society. And, disproportionately, the incarcerated individuals serving long sentences for crimes they committed in their youth are people of color.
Ensuring that the families of the victims of these crimes have input in these decisions is incredibly important to me, which is why my office always notifies the district attorney involved in a case when a clemency application is even under consideration, so that they can reach out to the victim’s family in a sensitive and trauma-informed way. To be clear: my office always takes this step, with every clemency application that is under consideration, so that victims can have a voice in the process.
I am disappointed that several district attorneys have chosen of late to score political points by issuing press releases that stoke public fears in these cases, decades after the original crimes were committed. In the intervening years, often 20 or more, the Oregonians granted clemency have demonstrated that they have turned their lives around and pose a low risk to anyone in the public.
It will always be easier to stoke fear and anger than to build understanding, compassion, and healing in our communities. But that doesn’t make it right. We have a chance, now, to correct the wrongs our justice system made in the 1990s, when being “tough on crime” meant sentencing children to life sentences without a second chance. That’s not the kind of justice that most Oregonians believe in.
As we build a just and equitable Oregon, I will continue to look at every case that comes to my desk, to find the individuals who have made amends for their crimes, and are deserving of a second chance at a life that contributes in a meaningful way to our society.”