Against that background, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in an understated comment at a news conference this month, slipped that Mr. Biden was taking a closer look at leniency to help the subgroup that are nonviolent drug offenders.
“He is therefore exploring multiple avenues to provide assistance to nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his leniency power,” Ms Psaki said.
In interviews, officials subsequently confirmed this focus. As a first step, the Justice Department will soon begin applying for pardons for drug offenders who have less than four years left on their sentences, which will then be reviewed by the pardons office, they said.
It’s unclear whether the Biden team is leaning towards converting the nonviolent drug offenders’ sentences to house arrest, shortening their sentences to bring them within the normal house arrest window, or a combination of both.
The officials said focusing on nonviolent drug offenders, unlike other types of criminals, is closely aligned with Mr Biden’s comforts in criminal justice reform. In his campaign platform, Mr Biden had said he had pledged to end jail time for drug-only use and instead take offenders to drug courts and treatment.
Inimai Chettiar, the federal director of the Justice Action Network, called the idea a good start, but also questioned the rationale for limiting it to some nonviolent drug offenders, saying there was “no scientific evidence” to support aid to that category. to limit. She suggested another explanation. “Politically, it’s an easier group to start with,” Ms. Chettiar said.
In addition, officials said, the Justice Department is studying other options that could help prevent several groups from being forced back into prison. Another idea under consideration is to petition the courts to allow some individual prisoners to remain under house arrest under a “compassionate release” law.