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Is Alice Johnson's Release A Sign Other Prisoners Will Get Out Too?


President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of a woman named Alice Johnson. She is 63 years old, a great-grandmother serving a life sentence for drug trafficking. Julieta Martinelli from our member station WPLN reports that some advocates hope Johnson's release could be a sign lesser-known prisoners could get a chance, too.

JULIETA MARTINELLI, BYLINE: It isn't uncommon for presidents to issue pardons, but it is unusual to do so many this early in their first term. Before Johnson, five people - all well-known - have been pardoned by President Trump. That includes former Arizona sheriff and now Senate candidate Joe Arpaio, deceased boxer Jack Johnson, and just last week, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza. That's why many rejoiced when they heard that Alice Johnson's sentence would be commuted after serving more than 20 years for drug trafficking.

SHON HOPWOOD: There's hope that the White House will continue to grant clemencies to deserving applicants that are not celebrities.

MARTINELLI: That's Shon Hopwood, an associate professor of law at Georgetown and a criminal defense attorney. Hopwood's own client, Matthew Charles, was sent back to prison to finish a sentence for selling crack. And like Johnson, Charles was a model for rehabilitation inside prison and in the two years he spent outside. Hopwood is hopeful he'll get clemency, too. Trump has called for harsh punishment for drug dealers, but a statement released by the White House yesterday says those who have rehabilitated deserve a second chance.

HOPWOOD: In Matthew's case, he's already served 21 years in federal prison. And so if it's just a matter of punishment, he's been punished enough.

MARTINELLI: Charles' case made national headlines partly after Kim Kardashian tweeted his story. She's also been publicly advocating on behalf of Johnson for months and last week went to the White House to ask the president to commute her sentence.

MARY PRICE: The thing that concerns me is that there are thousands of people waiting for consideration who don't have somebody like Kim Kardashian to lift them up.

MARTINELLI: That's Mary Price, an attorney for the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Price helped found the bipartisan group in 2014 that helped identify potential pardon recipients during President Obama's term.

PRICE: I would encourage this president to know that behind every Alice Johnson, there are hundreds and hundreds of others as deserving as she.

MARTINELLI: There are close to 10,000 clemency petitions currently pending for review. For NPR News, I'm Julieta Martinelli in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWUAN'S "NAH MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martinelli is a newsroom fellow at WPLN. She began as an intern at the station, where she reported on immigration, social issues and criminal justice issues, among other topics. Before arriving in Nashville, she split her time between the assignment desk and the investigative team at CBS 46, one of Atlanta's top-rated news stations. She has produced news segments and worked as a production manager for several live shows produced in conjunction with Georgia Public Broadcasting. She graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in criminal justice from Georgia State University in May 2017.