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PA is Leading the Way on Pardon Reform | Opinion

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Linda Dale Hoffa - June 30, 2021

With presidential pardons being extended to political allies and media personalities in recent years, pardons have gotten a bad name. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, you don’t need friends in high places to get a fresh start.

That was proven again just last week, when Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons — added to our constitution in 1872 to prevent such shenanigans by our governor — recommended pardons for 84% of the petitions heard, 110 of 131. Almost all of them appeared without attorneys or histories of political contributions, and none with “facilitators.” That makes 256 total pardons recommended just this calendar year, putting the board on pace to shatter last year’s record of 458. And Gov. Tom Wolf has been signing over 98% of them.

Often overlooked in discussions about criminal justice, gubernatorial pardons for state crimes play a critical part in helping people rebuild their lives after a conviction. That’s because, for people with felony records, the limitations don’t end once their sentence is over.

Having a record, even one that is decades old and for a nonviolent crime, can be crippling. Branded “felons” for life, those who have reformed and lead upright lives are routinely denied jobs, promotions, credit, admission to schools, and housing. The economic consequences are especially stark. A report by the American Bar Association suggested that having a criminal record decreased earning capacity by about a third. This isn’t so surprising considering that Pennsylvania, for example, requires state licensing for scores of occupations — including cosmetology, dental hygiene, and taxi driving — and that licensing boards may deny licensure to individuals with criminal records.

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