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President's Clemency for 63-Year-Old Serving Life for Non-Violent Drug Offense Is 'Unambiguously Good.' But Trump Is Also Working to Make Mass Incarceration Worse

"Trump stumbled into a good thing" with the Alice Johnson commutation, observed one criminal justice reform advocate. "Meanwhile, he's actively working to make sure federal prisons fill up with men and women just like her."

"This country's addiction to mass incarceration has devastated millions of families like Alice's, with emotional and economic consequences that can last generations," said ACLU lawyer Jennifer Turner. (Photo: Change.org)

President Donald Trump's decision on Wednesday to commute the prison sentence of Alice Johnson—a 63-year-old woman who was unjustly punished with life without parole for a non-violent drug offense—is "unambiguously good," in the words of one commentator.

"I urge the president to do the same for other federal prisoners serving extreme sentences that don't match the offenses, while reforming our draconian sentencing laws that produce these senseless punishments."
—Jennifer Turner, ACLU

It also remains the case that Trump has contributed to the racist criminal justice system that put Johnson behind bars for over two decades by boosting the private prison industry, hiring an attorney general who is eagerly working to worsen America's mass incarceration crisis, and advocating for the death penalty for non-violent drug offenders, as numerous criminal justice reform advocates pointed out on the heels of Trump's announcement.

"Trump stumbled into a good thing with this Alice Johnson [commutation]. Meanwhile, he's actively working to make sure federal prisons fill up with men and women just like her," writer Britni Danielle observed in a series of tweets. "Trump's pardon of Alice Johnson has less to do with her plight (or caring about people caught up in the hell of mandatory minimums, because he's totally fine with those), and more to do with wanting to please his famous associates."

Investigative journalist Alex Kotch added that if Trump wants to prove that this clemency was more than the one-time product of a celebrity pressure campaign by Kim Kardashian West and that he actually cares about America's deeply unjust criminal justice system, he will "continue mass pardons that Obama began."

In a statement following Trump's announcement on Wednesday, Jennifer Turner, a lawyer with the ACLU who represented Johnson in her application for clemency, said she is "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" and called on the president to "do the same for other federal prisoners serving extreme sentences that don't match the offenses."

According to data from the Bureau of Prisons released in January, more than 1,500 people in federal prisons are currently serving life without parole for drug offenses.

"This country's addiction to mass incarceration has devastated millions of families like Alice's, with emotional and economic consequences that can last generations," Turner concluded.

Kim Kardashian West, who met with Trump last week to push for Johnson's release, also celebrated the commutation in a series of tweets on Thursday, writing, "I hope to continue this important work by working together with organizations who have been fighting this fight for much longer than I have and deserve the recognition."

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