Alice Johnson & the New Era of Prison Reform

Alice Johnson Set Free, clemency

(Aliceville, AL) After 21 years in federal prison for a first time drug offense, Alice Johnson exited prison and tearfully joined family and friends while exclaiming, “I want to, first of all, thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him, I can do nothing. But with Him I can do everything.”

The 63-year old woman was sent to federal penitentiary in 1996 and had not seen the sunrise in her hometown of Memphis in 22 years.

She went on to explain how her name was called over the intercom during her lunch and then later Kim Kardashian told her that she had been granted clemency by the President.

While outside for the first time, Johnson proclaimed, “I want to thank President Donald John Trump. He gave me another chance at life and brought me back together with my family.” Johnson had reached out to President Obama for clemency but was denied.

Johnson highlights an issue that Senior White House Advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has had as his central focus: prison reform. Once known as a Democratic reform issue, the White House’s focus has been key to recently passing the First Step Act, which is geared to reduce recidivism, or the rate at which existing criminals will commit more crimes after they serve jail time.

According to a profile of Alice Marie Johnson in Mic, she was going through an unspeakably difficult time when she chose to get involved in the drug business. In 1989, she and her husband divorced. In 1990, she lost her job at FedEx — which she’d had for a decade – because of her gambling addiction. She couldn’t pay her bills and filed for bankruptcy. Her house was foreclosed on. Then, in 1992, her youngest son was killed in a motorcycle accident. That, she said, was the last straw for her — she decided then to start making money in a way that she later regretted. “I went into a complete panic, and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money,” said Johnson.

While incarcerated, Johnson demonstrated exemplary behavior through her assistance in a number of programs including assisting with suicide prevention and acting as a mentor.

The First Step Act, sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), works to improve conditions at federal prisons and to reduce recidivism by encouraging inmates to participate in job training and other personal development programs.

The bill would require inmates to be housed within 500 miles of their families and would prevent prisons from shackling pregnant women. It would also allow some inmates who participate in rehabilitative programs to spend more of their sentences in a halfway house or home confinement.

The chief criticism of the bill is that it does not address sentencing reform, an issue that would have benefited Alice Johnson and that could benefit others in similar circumstances.

While many critics point to the act’s flaws, it has widespread support from many across the political spectrum.

Kushner wrote in a recent op-ed, “The continued debate on sentencing should not impede the immediate progress the federal government can make to give prisoners a better shot at a successful life.”

Alice Johnson announced that she will been given a job as an administrator in a dentist’s office. Johnson said she plans to spend her time advocating for changes in the prison system as well.

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