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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 27, 2020 04:20 PM
From: Representative Joanna E. McClinton and Rep. Stephen Kinsey
To: All House members
Subject: Increasing opportunity for pardons in Pennsylvania
In 1995, the General Assembly approved legislation that requires a unanimous vote by the Board of Pardons before an offender serving a life sentence can be recommended to the governor for commutation or pardon of a sentence. Before then, only a simply majority vote in favor of pardon/commutation was needed for a case to move forward to the Governor. During that time a quarter century ago, floor debates in both chambers were emotional and reflected the anger and fear that was present at the time because the Board of Pardons had recently recommended the release of an offender who went on to commit an outrageous crime, and a “tough on crime” mindset followed.

Many members expressed concerns about requiring a unanimous vote in cases involving offenders serving life sentences. Concerns were expressed regarding the pardoning of elderly and the infirmed inmates who are costly to house and who pose on risk to public safety if pardoned. Additionally, concerns were expressed regarding inmates serving life sentences for crimes of “felony murder,” where the incarcerated person did not kill anyone, nor had they intended to kill anyone.

Almost a quarter of a century later, many of the concerns expressed during those debates have become reality. There has been an explosion in the prison population and inmates are serving longer periods of time in prison and dying out of the system. However, the most devastating aspect of this problem is that it has created a backlog of applications filed to the Board of Pardons. It is not unusual for a pardon applicant to wait three years for a decision.

Our legislation would do away with the requirement for a unanimous vote by the Pardon Board, and replace it with a requirement of a simply majority - three out of five votes - in favor of pardon or commutation of offenders serving a sentence of life in prison. Our goal is to get as many deserving offenders’ cases to the Governor’s desk as possible and ultimately pardoned.

There is no reason to continue to overburden the prison system, or hold people hostage when they no longer post a threat to society. Please join us in co-sponsoring this import legislation that would allow aging inmates to be considered for pardons and released under supervision.

Introduced as HB2262