PERRIS — President Joe Biden exercised his clemency powers for the first time in his administration Tuesday, issuing three pardons and 75 commutations nationally — including one sentence commutation to a prisoner with ties to Riverside County.
“Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities,” Biden said in a statement. “I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses … 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.”
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One of Biden’s commutations went to Paul Hernandez Contreras of Perris, who was sentenced in federal court in the District of Colorado on Jan. 8, 2019, on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine and a mixture and substance containing cocaine.
He was sentenced to 108 months and a three-year term of supervised release. Biden’s commutation allows the sentence to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, and leaves intact the three-year term of supervised release.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.
“During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.”
The president also announced new steps to support prisoners re-entering society after stretches in prison.
They include a new collaboration between the departments of Justice and Labor to provide job training; new grants for workforce development programs; greater opportunities to serve in federal government; expanded access to capital for people with convictions trying to start small businesses; improved reentry services for veterans; and more support for health care, housing and educational opportunities.
Biden’s action was lauded by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The ACLU applauds President Biden’s grant of 75 commutations and three pardons, many of whom fit the categories called for by the ACLU in the Redemption Campaign, a nationwide effort to liberate 50,000 people from federal and state prisons,” Cynthia Roseberry, deputy director of the ACLU’s Justice Division, said in a statement.
“America incarcerates more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population despite comprising only 5 percent of the global population, with Black people 10 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than anyone else,” she continued. “At a cost of $80 billion annually, the carceral system is a behemoth albatross for justice and equality. The grant of clemency plus the initiatives announced as wrap around services is essential to returning people to their communities and to their families.”