Kemba Smith Pradia, a Richmond native who served more than six years of a 24½-year federal prison sentence before she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton, was appointed to the Virginia Parole Board on Friday.
Prior to the appointment, Pradia was the state advocacy campaigns director with the ACLU of Virginia. Pradia, the author of “Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story,” has been a national advocate for sentencing reform and a consultant on the criminal justice system for over 20 years.
According to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, Pradia has worked with officials at the White House, the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and members of Congress, and has led training for federal and state probation organizations across the country.
She has served on the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission since 2015. Pradia graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor of social work degree and is a native of Richmond, where she lives.
In 1994, when she was 24, Pradia, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced to 24½ years in prison after getting caught up in the crack-dealing activities of her boyfriend, who was later murdered.
According to a Richmond Times-Dispatch account in 2000, Pradia became a focal point of a national campaign against federal mandatory sentencing laws in crack-trafficking cases because her long, no-parole sentence contrasted with her youth, previously clean record and wholesome background.
Her case was often referred to as “Kemba’s Nightmare” after a national publication used that headline.
Pradia’s lawyers appealed her conviction, but it was upheld in the courts. In 2000, with support growing nationwide, lawyers turned to seeking a White House pardon, and Clinton granted her executive clemency. Her voting rights were restored in 2012.
Pradia is replacing Jean W. Cunningham, who is retiring from the five-member parole board.