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Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco Delivers Remarks at Justice Department’s “Celebration of Second Chances” Event


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

I want to start by welcoming everyone to the Great Hall this morning.

We often honor the most significant achievements that advance the Department's mission in this space — so it’s fitting that we’re together here recognizing Second Chance Month.

In the preamble to the Constitution the founders set forth that a primary purpose of our nation is to “establish justice.”

At the Department of Justice — the only Department named for a value — that charge obviously holds special meaning.

Establishing justice is about holding people accountable when they break the law, of course.

But accountability alone isn’t enough.

The justice we work for in this building requires more. It requires fairness. And that can include the opportunity for a second chance.

Establishing justice means revisiting, assessing, and improving policies and punishments.

It means helping those who have run afoul of the law re-enter society, so they can contribute to their communities.

And it means understanding that when people learn and grow, so too must our system.  

The Office of the Pardon Attorney exists for these reasons. Clemency is a vital tool to establish justice.

Clemency and the second chance it offers can recognize redemption.

It can reunite a family.

It can restore the right to vote.

I’m so appreciative of Liz and her team for their critical work assisting the President on executive clemency decisions and breathing life into the clemency process.

They’re revising clemency applications to ensure greater accessibility and transparency – like ensuring forms are available in Spanish.

They’re travelling the country, visiting Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities to train staff and those in custody on the clemency process.

And they’re working with the urgency demanded by justice.

Over the last two years, the team has reduced its average initial commutation case processing times by over 85%. And they’ve reviewed close to 12,000 clemency applications in that time — an incredible number.

The initiative invited petitions for commutations of sentences from those who likely would have received substantially lower sentences if convicted of the same offenses years later.

Partnering with folks across this building, the Office of the Pardon Attorney worked with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to lead the effort.

And they changed lives.

I’m so happy to be able to welcome back to the Department two of my predecessors and friends who were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the initiative: former Deputy Attorneys General David Odgen and Jim Cole.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without their leadership and commitment to clemency.

In recent years, the Clemency Initiative has been furthered by President Biden’s commitment to second chances.

In December, the President issued his second categorical pardon for certain marijuana offenses by expanding it to people who used marijuana or violated certain federal regulations. 

Federal action like this is part of the larger effort for second chances — an effort being led by all of you:

  • Past and present colleagues at the Justice Department devoted to this issue;
  • Federal defenders, public defenders, and advocates; and
  • Those celebrating their own second chance stories and those of others.

We have so many people to celebrate. And I want to extend special thanks to all the clemency recipients here today — including Alice Marie Johnson, Jason Hernandez, and Sharanda Jones who are participating in today’s event. 

Thank you for sharing your time and your perspective. Your stories serve as an inspiration for those still working toward a second chance. 

And to the members of the bench and the Bar — especially the Federal Defender and public defender community and all the advocates who work so tirelessly on behalf of those seeking a second chance — thank you for your work.

Together, we can move our justice system closer to meeting its promise to the American people — an aspiration summed up neatly by my first boss in the Department, Attorney General Janet Reno, who said, “The keystone to justice is the belief that the legal system treats all fairly.”

Second Chance Month is the right time to focus on the promise presented by a fresh start – and this month and every day the work represented here is bringing us closer to “establishing justice.”

Again, thank you all for being here.

Civil Rights
Updated April 12, 2024