The man in charge of Pa.’s commutation system says it’s broken. Can it be fixed?

December 18, 2018

December 11, 2018, Samantha Melamed - The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

For the last four years, Kathleen Brown, a University of Pennsylvania nursing professor emerita, has been traveling to Pennsylvania prisons with her students, helping men and women serving life sentences petition the state Board of Pardons for clemency, their only hope of seeing some years outside prison walls.

Now, she’s contemplating quitting.

 

“After thousands of hours of volunteering all this time in prisons, I can’t solicit hope from inmates if there isn’t any,” she said. “That’s just ethically wrong. I can’t do it, and I shouldn’t ask students to do it."

 

After all her efforts — and under a Board of Pardons chaired by a lieutenant governor, Mike Stack III, who has made access to clemency his top priority — just two lifers have been granted commutation since Gov. Wolf took office nearly four years ago. It’s an indication, according to critics and Stack himself, that the system is broken.

 

Stack, a Democrat who lost his reelection bid in the primary, is using his last days in office to call for sweeping reforms, including removing politicians from the Board of Pardons and eliminating the requirement for a unanimous vote to recommend that the governor commute a life sentence.

 

“It’s rare, I guess, to hear people in politics and elective office say we need to get people in politics and elective office out of the process as much as possible, but that’s what I’m advocating,” Stack said. "Politicians are susceptible to political pressure, and in criminal justice, that should not be the case.”

 

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