President Donald Trump Donald trump has commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who has been serving a life prison sentence for a non-violent, first-time drug offence.
The commutation comes just a week after Mr Trump met with businesswoman and celebrity Kim Kardashian, who has championed Johnson’s case after learning about the issue through a viral video produced by Mic
“BEST NEWS EVER!!!!” Kardashian wrote on Twitter after the commutation, alongside several praying emojis
In a statement announcing the commutation, the White House said that the administration remains “tough on crime” but that the president believes that individuals who have “paid their debt to society” should be allowed to return to civilian life.
Ms Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behaviour and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades. Despite receiving a life sentence, Alice worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates. Her Warden, Case Manager, and Vocational Training Instructor have all written letters in support of her clemency.
According to her Warden, Arcala Washington-Adduci, ‘since [Ms. Johnson’s] arrival at this institution, she has exhibited outstanding and exemplary work ethic. She is considered to be a model inmate who is willing to go above and beyond in all work tasks.’” the statement reads
The commutation means that Johnson will walk free after her conviction on non-violent drug charges in the 1990s gave her a life sentence, but the felony will remain on her criminal record
She is currently being held in Aliceville, Alabama.
Mr Trump has reportedly become fascinated with his pardoning powers as president, which are almost completely unchecked by mandate from the Constitution.
In recent weeks, Mr Trump has made controversial statement that he was considering pardoning or commuting the sentences of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving time in federal for prison for soliciting bribes in exchange for a US Senate seat, and for businesswoman Martha Stewart, who is not in prison but was convicted for financial crimes in the mid-2000s after she sold her entire stake in a company just a day before its stock dropped considerably
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has represented Ms Johnson in her clemency application, responded to the decision by thanking the president and Kardashian, and by urging the White House to consider more cases like Johnson’s.
“Alice Marie Johnson was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense in 1996 and received a sentence far too severe for the crime: life without the possibility of parole. Alice has become a grandmother and a great-grandmother while behind bars, and she has talked to me about the pain of being kept from her family with no hope of ever rejoining their lives. I’m grateful to the president for allowing Alice to go home after 21.5 years in prison and to Kim Kardashian for her advocacy on Alice’s behalf,” Jennifer Turner an attorney with the ACLU who is working on Johnson’s case, said in a statement.
“I urge the president to do the same for other federal prisoners serving extreme sentences that don’t match the offences, while reforming our Draconian sentencing laws that produce these senseless punishments.”
Ms Turner cited a 2013 report conducted by her organisation that found that at least 3,278 people are serving sentences of life without parole for relatively minor offences. That includes cases like one where an individual received the sentence after stealing a $159 jacket, and another where an individual was sentenced to life without parole for acting as a middle-man for the sale of $10 worth of marijuana.
The ACLU estimates that roughly 65 per cent of those individuals are black, and that many of them struggle with drug addiction or mental illness. The civil rights organisation argues that these incarcerations cost the US government “billions” of dollars to maintain.
Mr Trump’s decision to grant clemency to Johnson was met with wide praise, but the president has shown little appetite for these sorts of measures compared to his predecessor. President Barack Obama pushed for commutations for non-violent drug offenders during his time in office, and commuted 330 individuals who were in that category on his last day in office. Mr Obama granted clemency to more people than the 12 presidents who preceded him combined, including nearly 600 people with life sentences.
Mr Trump, in the year and a half he has been president, has granted clemency to just three people, according to Justice Department statistics