Public hearings are set to begin Wednesday for the largest number of Pennsylvania lifers up for commutation that anyone can recall: 21 men and women, all of whom are recommended by the state Department of Corrections for release, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In 1988, then-Lt. Gov. Mark Singel was about to oversee the release of 27 lifers before one of them, Reginald McFadden, went on a violent crime spree that left three people dead and ended Singel’s run for governor. Three decades later the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons again is considering commutations, this time under another reform-minded lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who is set on restoring second chances, particularly for lifers who did not actually take a life themselves.
“We need to reevaluate and ask ourselves as a community, how much is enough?” Fetterman said. “Is that 25 years? Thirty years? Thirty-five? Forty? We have inmates in our system who have done 40 years and never taken a life directly. I think it’s critical that we examine that and, when it merits it, make sure we give them another chance to rebuild their lives and contribute to society.” Fetterman backs a constitutional amendment to end the requirement that commutations be recommended unanimously by the five-member Board of Pardons — a rule put in place after the deadly error of releasing McFadden. There are more than 5,000 lifers in Pennsylvania. For now, the 21 applicants up for review will still need unanimous support to be considered by the governor for clemency. While Fetterman’s predecessor, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, also advocated for second chances in his role as pardon board chairman, he made little progress. When he left office last year, he declared the commutation system “broken.” Gov. Tom Wolf has commuted 11 life sentences — the highest total since Gov. Bob Casey Sr. in the ’90s.