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When will President Biden address criminal justice reform?

Federal sentencing changes or clemency hasn't been a priority so far
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 01, 2021

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has clearly made the pandemic, the border, the economy and now infrastructure some of his top issues so far in his administration.

However, presidents are also faced with a myriad of other issues as well.

Criminal justice reform may fall in the "other issues" category, but questions are mounting over what or when the president will address it.


Biden promised to address mandatory minimum sentences during the campaign, an issue that is believed to contribute to the large prison population in the United States.

While President Donald Trump made significant strides during his administration by passing measures like the First Step Act, Biden, as a candidate, promised to do more.

While Biden has ended federal contracts with private prisons, he has not addressed the issue much further.

Nkechi Taifa, a criminal justice reform advocate, believes that will change soon. Taifa has been in touch with the Biden administration.

"There are too many people in prison," Taifa said.

"With respect to drugs, it’s only about the weight of drugs and amount of drugs that dictates the time you serve. It doesn’t matter what the judge thinks, doesn’t matter what your characteristics are. Biden has said he’ll do away with it," Taifa added.

While congressional action would likely be needed to solve some criminal justice issues, Taifa believes Biden could use his clemency powers to unilaterally reduce sentences for many behind bars.

"I am optimistic," Taifa said.


Manuel Camerena is an example of someone who would have benefited from a change in sentencing guidelines.

Camerena was arrested and convicted on drug trafficking charges.

Because he was sentenced in federal court, he had to face the reality of no parole and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.

"They were my neighbors and they needed somebody with a driver's license so they asked if I wanted to work and I did," Camerena said.

"I served 10 years," Camerena added.

"I didn’t have a drug record at all. I never got caught smoking weed or anything except that time. But that was enough, that’s the law," Camerena said.

Camerena, who is now struggling with homelessness in El Paso, isn't asking for pity but he is wondering if his punishment truly fit the crime. A debate over criminal justice reform he believes should happen.

"When I was in prison, my whole family died," Camerena said.