Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is yet to invoke his clemency powers, but at least one predecessor suffered politically by doing so, the Associated Press reports. The vote of former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel to commute the life sentence of 24-year inmate Reginald McFadden came back to haunt him one month before the 1994 gubernatorial election when McFadden was arrested for killing two people. Republican Tom Ridge defeated Singel, a Democrat. During nearly seven years as governor, Ridge did not commute a single life sentence.
Mark Schweiker, a Republican who finished the last 15 months of Ridge’s second term, handed out pardons faster than any recent governor — 22 per month, including 84 on his last day — for a total of 338. Schweiker, who recognized many of the applications from his time on the Pardons Board as Ridge’s lieutenant governor, generally approved only cases involving low-level crimes.
The widest use of pardons, a form of official forgiveness that restores lost privileges but does not expunge the record, and commutations, which reduce the penalty or punishment, was by Milton Shapp in the 1970s. Shapp’s philosophy of deinstitutionalization translated into 475 pardons.
Shapp was followed by Republican Richard Thornburgh, who in eight years pardoned 61 and released seven lifers. Democrat Robert Casey pardoned 302 and commuted 27, one of them McFadden.
A growing number of Pennsylvanians are turning to the pardons process to clear the record of their indiscretions. Eight years ago the Pardons Board received about 250 applications; about 450 are expected this year. The board attributes much of the increase to the Brady Law of 1993, which required a waiting period for prospective handgun purchasers so that their record could be checked.