President Trump has pardoned Pat Nolan, a former Republican state legislative leader who spent years in prison after being convicted in the “Shrimpscam” FBI sting in the 1990s and later became a high-profile conservative apostle for criminal justice reform.
Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Nolan said he was “obviously very grateful.”
“I had hoped to get one, but actually I’m really hopeful that the president will issue many more pardons,” Nolan, 68, said. “There are a lot of other people that are incarcerated who would be better off at home with their family.”
Nolan served 26 months of a 33-month prison sentence after pleading guilty in what would become one of Sacramento’s most notorious political corruption cases (“Shrimpscam”).
After leaving prison, Nolan became a prominent conservative voice on criminal justice reform. He took a job as president of Justice Fellowship, a Virginia-based group founded by disgraced Nixon White House aide Chuck Colson that advocates for sentencing reform.
Nolan met Colson, who was incarcerated for obstruction of justice in the Watergate case, while he was still in prison. He said he regarded the former White House aide as “an older brother.”
Nolan called his experiences in prison transformative. Speaking to The Times in 2007, he compared incarceration to amputation: “Cut off from family, community job, church and, with your stump still bleeding, you’re tossed into this boiling cauldron of anger, hatred, bitterness, sexual repression.”
The former assemblyman, who is also a lawyer, lives in Arizona and leads the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation, which runs CPAC, the annual political conference for conservatives.
Over the years, changes he’s proposed to the criminal justice system include the use of probation and parole to allow low-risk offenders to keep their jobs, redirecting prison construction funds toward hiring more parole officers, and expanding skills training and industry in prisons.
“It is clear that neither the liberal approach, which treats crime as a mere byproduct of poverty … nor the standard conservative approach, which boils down to little more than ‘lock ‘em up,’ makes our communities any safer,” Colson and Nolan wrote in a joint op-ed in 1997.
The White House statement said Nolan is “uniformly described as a man of principle and integrity” and highlighted his work helping pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Second Chance Act and the Fair Sentencing Act, a law signed by President Obama that reduced the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses.