McClinton’s Pardon-Reform Measure Gains Support from House Committee
State House Speaker Joanna McClinton’s legislation to reform Pennsylvania’s pardon process advanced one-step closer to consideration in the state House Monday when it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.
Harrisburg, Nov. 13 – State House Speaker Joanna McClinton’s legislation to reform Pennsylvania’s pardon process advanced one-step closer to consideration in the state House Monday when it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.
McClinton’s bill, H.B. 1410, would amend the state Constitution to create greater opportunities for incarcerated Pennsylvanians to receive a pardon or have their sentences commuted by changing the unanimous vote requirement of the Pardon Board to a three-out-of-five votes requirement, which would save taxpayer resources by reducing the burden on the state’s correctional institutions while contributing to overall reform of the criminal justice system.
Having served as a public defender for nearly a decade, McClinton said she saw people get entangled in the criminal justice system as a result of systemic inequality, chronic disinvestment, undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues, and general lack of opportunity in their communities. These conditions, coupled with a shift to a “tough on crime” approach to justice in the 1990s, left many people incarcerated for long sentences and has overburdened the correctional system with older Pennsylvanians who pose little risk to their communities.
“It is time to move past the short-sighted policies of the ‘tough on crime’ era, which many agree did little to make Pennsylvania safer, and instead return to a fair and reasonable three-out-of-five votes requirement,” said McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware. “I’m glad that so many members of the Judiciary Committee see the need to replace an outdated policy with a policy of compassion, understanding and opportunity.”
During a Judiciary hearing last month, McClinton assured committee members that returning to the three-out-of-five votes of the Pardon Board to make a recommendation to the governor to commute a sentence or issue a pardon would not offer nor guarantee a pardon or commutation to any person, but would provide more deserving individuals a chance that, after their specific case is thoroughly reviewed and a majority of the Pardon Board is thoroughly convinced it is appropriate, their case can be put before the governor for review and action as appropriate.
To take effect, the language of the bill must pass both chambers of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and be put to the voters as a referendum, a process that McClinton noted is intentionally rigorous and ultimately allows Pennsylvanians to decide.
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., who is a co-prime sponsor of the bill, said, “This piece of legislation is a win-win for Pennsylvania, saving taxpayer dollars and providing greater chances for individuals who have served their time and pose no threat to society the chance to return to their communities. We have a great opportunity with this legislation to move Pennsylvania forward in a compassionate, just, and sensible way -- we must act swiftly. I thank Speaker McClinton for allowing me to partner with her in addressing this crucial issue.”
At a news conference in October, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, chair of the state Board of Pardons, endorsed McClinton’s legislation. The bill is also supported by FAMM (Families for Justice Reform), the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Allegheny County Public Defender Office, and the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
McClinton and others testified last month before the Judiciary Committee. Her testimony, video and photos from the event are available on McClinton’s website.
The measure has been introduced in multiple legislative sessions but had never received consideration in the previously Republican-led state House. The legislation now advances for consideration by the full state House of Representatives.
CONTACT: Nicole Reigelman
Office of the Speaker of the House