After A Decline, Are Governors’ Pardons On The Verge Of A Comeback?


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn pardoned 232 ex-offenders on his last day in office last Friday, says Governing magazine. That same day, in neighboring Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence issued three pardons — the first during his two years in office. Which governor's actions were more typical? Until recently, it would have been easy to pick Pence. For decades now, governors have been sparing with pardons, not wanting to be perceived as lenient and worrying about the political risks of pardoning people who go on to commit further crimes.

Gubernatorial pardons may be ready to start making a comeback. As part of the broader rethinking of criminal justice strategies, in which concerns about rehabilitation, exonerations and expungement of records have become part of the mix, more governors seem willing to embrace their historic role of offering clemency to those who have earned it. Quinn offered 43 additional offenders clemency during his last minutes in office on Monday, bringing his career total well above 1,000. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued nearly 50 pardons during his first year in office, while California's Jerry Brown gave out more than 100 on Christmas Eve. Still, the number of gubernatorial pardons has dropped dramatically in recent decades. Plenty of governors these days only offer a few pardons a year, if that many.

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