Kardashian West’s fight for mercy for reformed convicts
Kim Kardashian West is said to be remarkable because she is famous despite having no talent, but she is currently leading a movement of compassion in the US. For this, she deserves credit.
Kardashian West is a reality star from Los Angeles, known for her appearances on magazine covers and her marriage to a highly successful rapper named Kanye West. She initially found notoriety when, as the daughter of a slightly famous lawyer, she appeared in a personal bedroom video with a small-time rapper that spread across the internet. The foundation of her empire has been built on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” — the reality TV show featuring her and her sisters.
A year ago, Kardashian West embarked on a mission of compassion and justice for some Americans serving in federal prisons. She seeks the release and rehabilitation of those prisoners who are serving particularly long sentences for non-violent drug offenses. There is no question that these people were rightly convicted, but the argument is that some of these prisoners have exhibited promise and have served enough time. They should be granted liberty and permitted to build new lives.
The US has been fighting against the epidemic of dangerous, illegal drugs for decades. Drugs destroy families and, in 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died of overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The drug epidemic has hit every corner of American society. The news regularly covers stories of drug use among the rich and famous in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But drugs also plague the poorest Americans, who often turn to other forms of crime to pay for their addictions. And drugs long ago invaded even prestigious universities and the high schools of leafy, affluent suburbs.
In the US today, much of the devastation is caused by opioids. Many people become addicted through legal, prescribed pain medication and eventually switch to illegal heroin or other products that numb them to everything. Even worse, modern heroin is often made with fentanyl, an extremely powerful drug that is highly lethal and caused almost 30,000 of the American overdose deaths in 2017. In addition to opioids, America suffers from the proliferation of ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack cocaine. Drug addiction is a disease that the US has been trying to cure for decades.
A year ago, Kardashian West embarked on a mission of compassion and justice for some Americans serving in federal prisons.
Ellen R. Wald
Since the 1960s, presidents have focused on fighting drug proliferation. By the 1980s, under then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, schools began a serious initiative to educate about the dangers of drug use, but this did not work well enough. In 1986, Congress changed sentencing requirements so that those convicted of trafficking or possessing crack cocaine would receive significantly harsher prison sentences because of the dangers and violence associated with that drug. From there, the length of prison sentences increased. By 2000, almost a quarter of all prisoners in state and federal prisons were being held for breaking laws concerning the trafficking, sale or possession of drugs.
Clearly drug abuse is a terrible problem. However, Kardashian West and others realized that some prisoners do reform, and some deserve a second chance despite the extremely long mandatory prison sentences for the crimes they committed. Around this time last year, she met at the White House with President Donald Trump to ask him for leniency on one such convict, Alice Marie Johnson.
Johnson is a great-grandmother who was arrested in 1993 and eventually sentenced to life in prison for her part in a cocaine distribution ring. She has not denied her guilt, but she was asking for a second chance after more than 20 years in prison. By all accounts, she was a well-behaved prisoner. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama rejected her plea for leniency.
In the US system, the president rarely becomes involved in criminal prosecutions, and he has no say in judicial decisions. The judiciary — the judges and the juries they oversee — are independent of political influence and not under the president’s control. However, with wise foresight, the Framers of the US Constitution included a provision that allowed the president to pardon any criminal for any reason or no reason at all. While a pardon essentially expunges the person’s record as if he had never been convicted of the crime, the president can also commute a sentence, which shortens it due to compassion.
Kardashian West convinced Trump to commute Johnson’s sentence — one of several commutations and pardons he has granted. On her TV show this week, Kardashian West and her extended family hosted Johnson for dinner. Now Kardashian West is studying to become a lawyer to help more rehabilitated convicts. Many scoff at the reality star, but she should be celebrated. Mercy is needed in this world.
- Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy