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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: June 8, 2021 02:53 PM
From: Representative Joanna E. McClinton and Rep. Stephen Kinsey
To: All House members
Subject: Increasing opportunity for pardons in Pennsylvania
While great strides have been made in recent years on a bipartisan basis around criminal justice reform in this state, more work needs to be done to ensure our system is fairer, more transparent, and allows people an opportunity to reform their lives and become active members of society again.
Currently, an individual convicted of a life sentence in Pennsylvania needs a unanimous vote by the Board of Pardons to even be considered for a pardon or commutation by the Governor. This short-sided change was made in the late 1990’s, during the height of the failed “tough on crime” years. The broad consensus now is that the policies and laws of that time did nothing to make us safer – instead, it just locked people up for decades, often disproportionately along racial and socioeconomic lines. As we continue to examine ways to improve our criminal justice system, we need to have a frank conversation about our sentencing laws and the ability of people to reform their lives and once again contribute to society. This is especially true for individuals currently serving life sentences for crimes of “felony murder,” where the incarcerated person did not directly kill anyone, nor had they intended to kill anyone.
In this vein, our legislation will propose an amendment to the Constitution of Pennsylvania to do away with the unanimous vote requirement by the Pardon Board for life sentences and for individuals sentenced to death and replace it with a majority vote requirement - three out of five votes. This majority requirement was the law before the late 1990’s and it should be the law today. It should be noted, this legislation doesn’t guarantee anyone will be pardoned or have their sentence commuted, it just gives more deserving individuals a chance. 

There is no reason to continue to overburden the prison system or detain people when they no longer pose a threat to society. Please join us in co-sponsoring this important legislation that would allow aging inmates and others who have reformed their lives to be considered for pardons and commutations in Pennsylvania.

Introduced as HB1719