Above photo: Getty Images.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is launching a six-figure ad buy featuring both digital and print spots calling for President Biden to adhere to his campaign promise of decreasing the number of incarcerated persons in the country.
Specifically, the ACLU wants Biden to grant clemency to thousands of people who meet certain criteria, something that he could do through executive powers.
“We use criteria that reflect an evolution in our thinking around criminal justice,” Cynthia Roseberry, deputy director of the ACLU’s justice division, told The Hill.
“For example, calling for those who are now incarcerated, but who if they were sentenced today, would not receive the same sentence [to be released]. And then common sense things like calling for the elderly to be released … people who are vulnerable to [COVID-19] … people who are convicted of drug offenses and people who have been incarcerated for technical probation or parole violations,” Roseberry continued.
The call for mass clemency by the prominent civil rights organization comes after Biden signed four executive orders earlier in the week, one of which ended the Justice Department’s contracts with private prisons.
Civil rights groups were generally pleased with the orders, but acknowledged that there was still much for the new administration to do in the area of racial equity and justice.
Comprehensive criminal justice and prison reform were integral parts of Biden’s campaign platform. The former vice president has made clear that reducing the incarcerated population is needed, though it’s unclear what a decrease in the country’s prison population during Biden’s presidency will look like.
Biden’s campaign website doesn’t offer a specific reduction percentage, and the White House did not immediately respond when asked by The Hill if mass clemency is something being considered by the president in the near future.
Nonetheless, it’s a pledge that the ACLU wants to see become reality.
“We are energized by what we’ve heard so far from this administration,” Roseberry said. “But we’re going to as we always do: Push our elected officials to keep their promises and we’re also going to challenge them to go beyond.”
In a statement Thursday morning, the ACLU estimated that as many as 25,000 people could be released from prison by Biden under its criteria.
More people are incarcerated in the United States than any other country in the world, with the U.S. outpacing China and India, which both have significantly larger populations.
According to recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. in 2019 had a total convicted prisoner population of 1,430,800, though the actual number of incarcerated persons is well over 2 million.
In a poll last August commissioned by the group, 80 percent of respondents supported “ending or shortening the prison sentences of certain people in prison if they meet particular criteria and are determined not to pose a threat to public safety.”