Opinion

REDEMPTION: It’s Time For Trump To Pardon Model Prisoners Serving Time For Low-Level Crimes

Trump Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Bishop Council Nedd III Rector, St. Alban's Anglican Church

Last December, President Donald Trump first exercised his power to pardon by commuting the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin. The kosher meatpacking executive received 27 years in prison for money laundering. Rubashkin’s pardon was championed by members of Congress, former attorneys general and law enforcement officials who said the penalty was too tough for the first-time offender.

But what about Matthew Charles and thousands of other inmates like him without such influential friends? Perhaps President Trump can show them a little executive clemency.

You likely have not heard nothing about Matthew Charles. In 2016, after spending 21 years behind bars on convictions for selling crack cocaine and illegally procuring guns, Charles was released early from a 35-year sentence. His term was shortened due to changes in the penalties for crack cases.

Charles was, quite literally, the model prisoner. He was a GED tutor. He helped his fellow inmates understand their complicated legal documents. He was never written up during his incarceration. After his release, Charles became a gainfully employed churchgoer and volunteered in his community.

Happy ending, right?

Sadly, no.

The government appealed the release of Matthew Charles, noting a previous sentence qualified him as a “career criminal” unworthy of early release. He was returned to jail to serve out his original sentence.

I am a law enforcement officer, a church rector and a political activist. From each of those perspectives, I see reasons to give Charles another chance at freedom — and to reconsider the sentences of others like him.

As a Pennsylvania state constable working principally for the courts, I have the opportunity to experience the good and bad of the criminal justice system. There are currently more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons.

There are days when jail officials ask me not to bring in another prisoner because there are already too many people incarcerated for nonviolent or low-level offenses.

As a clergyman, I counsel those who have run afoul of the law but want a fresh start.

As the co-chairman of the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, I promote its “Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America.” The Blueprint recommends stopping the government from abusing civil asset forfeiture and raising money from small offenses that can carry prison sentences for those unable to pay. Such sentences have a disparate impact on poor and minority communities and further erodes relations between the police and black citizens.

Jared Kushner, a White House senior advisor and the President’s son-in-law, is pushing the bipartisan “First Step Act” — a criminal justice reform bill that passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House of Representatives. It offers new education and rehabilitation programs focusing on reducing recidivism. Participation can earn inmates an early release and other perks. President Trump has pledged: “I will sign it.”

Despite these solutions, I still implore President Trump — since he seems to be in a pardoning mood — to commute the sentence of Matthew Charles. And please consider others like him, who were convicted of nonviolent offenses and who now have a sincere interest in helping those around them.

Doing so obviously entails risk. If someone with a commuted sentence commits another crime, the president will be criticized. Yet President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated he is not averse to taking risks, political or otherwise, when the cause is right and in the best interest of our nation. Some may say his posthumous pardon of boxing champion Jack Johnson was insincere pandering, but it was actually a long overdue act of mercy by a man committed to righting a wrong.

It’s a far cry from creating a culture of permissiveness fostering an escalation of bad behavior.

During a recent Project 21 meeting with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, he spoke to us about taking the culture of his agency off of buildings and focusing on people. I’d like to see that same vision for our prison system. The focus should not be on keeping the prisons full, but on emptying them of those who have earned mercy. This leaves ample space for wanton predators lacking a regard for American society.

Project 21 Co-Chairman Council Nedd II — “America’s Constable” — is a serving Pennsylvania state constable and a bishop in the Anglican Church. He is the rector of St. Alban’s in Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.