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By Nkechi Taifa, Esq.
Upon popular demand here is the video from the Justice Roundtable’s March 3, 2021 feature of the Fireside Chat with recently released William Underwood and Senator Cory Booker. It brought me great joy for the opportunity to showcase Bill Underwood, as his case and the fight to free him from his life without parole sentence represents many of the areas the Justice Roundtable has advocated over the past 19 years, including sentencing, drug policy, commutations, law enforcement and reentry.
Mr. Underwood’s case was not one of low-hanging fruit — it was a difficult life without parole case including a conspiracy charge with underlying violence, drugs and a continuing criminal enterprise. By going to trial he was penalized. Laws were changed that would have benefited him but they were not retroactive. His request for clemency was not acted upon by two administrations. The prosecutor in his original trial obstructed his release at each turn. Not only did the BOP and government oppose his motion for compassionate release, even after the court granted the motion and ordered his release, the government requested that he not be released immediately. Luckily that crass motion was denied.
Thus, William Underwood’s immediate release on compassionate release is a victory and a signal that we must continue our advocacy, especially in the harder cases. The releasing judge looked at the man Bill is today, as opposed to the young person he was 33 years ago. The judge looked to his accomplishments in prison — parenting from behind bars, mentor to younger prisoners, disciplinary record, etc., and rightfully ruled that the interests of justice were no longer served by his incarceration. Mr. Underwood has now entered the realm of reentry and is in the process of navigating its many roadblocks and detours.
Please feel free to share the below video as we continue the struggle to reform and transform laws and policies that inhumanely keep people in prison for inordinately lengthy periods of time in general, and during the current health pandemic in particular. Let’s triple our efforts to change laws so that human beings like Bill Underwood can successfully return to loving families, as opposed to being destined to die in prison.
VIDEO OF FIRESIDE CHAT WITH SENATOR BOOKER AND WILLIAM UNDERWOOD
Nkechi Taifa is the convener of the Justice Roundtable. An expert in the field of criminal justice, she is President and CEO of The Taifa Group, LLC.