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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: December 24, 2014 08:47 AM
From: Representative W. Curtis Thomas
To: All House members
Subject: Board of Pardons Merit Review Minimum Requirements
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would address the more than 1,000 cases filed and pending review before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. My legislation would require that as long as there is a case backlog of six months or longer, the board shall be required to merit review at least 540 applications a year, or at least 60 applications a month 9 months a year.

This backlog is a barrier to employment and efforts to re-establish families for many of the individuals, old and young from all parts of the state, who have filed applications for pardons.

In the first two months of 2014, the Board merit reviewed 264 cases, held public hearings on 39 of those cases and denied 19 requests. Based on the remainder of the posted Board calendar, there is only one additional merit review session scheduled in 2014. The current caseload of more than 1,000 applications represents an estimated three year backlog at the present rate of review. In 2013, the Board merit reviewed 399 cases and took 160 to public hearings. Of those 111 were recommended for pardon and another 48 denied. The Governor in 2013 granted a total of 130 pardons and denied 14.

Merit reviewing is the first step in the clemency process. Once a case is merit reviewed, it then is either granted or denied a public hearing. Following a public hearing, the board makes its recommendations to the governor for approving or denying clemency requests.

A pardon essentially represents total forgiveness of a crime by the state and allows job applicants and others required to file criminal background reports to deny they ever were convicted of a crime. A commutation is a reduction in prison or parole time.

For anyone who has applied for work, especially post 2001 when criminal background requirements were strengthened in many occupations, the criminal background check can handicap, if not derail, efforts to obtain employment. In a number of cases, these criminal records involve minor misdemeanors that may have occurred when the applicant was much younger.

The Board of Pardons was created in 1872 by adopting Article IV, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Board first met in 1874 with the mission then being the same as it remains today – to hear requests for pardons, commutations of sentences, granting of reprieves, and remission of fines and forfeitures in criminal cases. The system only works if eligible individuals have an assurance that once they qualify and can submit paperwork for clemency that it won’t take more than three years just to find out if the board feels their case warrants a public hearing and decision.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation.

(Formerly HB 2207 of the 2013-14 Legislative Session)

Introduced as HB288