Illinois’ executive clemency record proves need for sealing reform

Hilary Gowins

Writer. Content strategist. Award-winning reporter. Likes cats and basketball.

Hilary Gowins
December 16, 2016

Illinois’ executive clemency record proves need for sealing reform

Illinois governors don’t just pass on debt to their successors – they also leave behind a backlog of petitions for clemency.

Gov. Bruce Rauner made news Dec. 12 for finally clearing the state’s queue, which spanned clemency requests covering more than a decade and included one request dating back to 2003. But by the time he finished, the governor had approved just 79 requests for pardon out 2,333. That’s a 3 percent approval rating.

The December announcement didn’t mark Rauner’s first time considering clemency petitions. On July 1, he pardoned and expunged the records of six ex-offenders, with convictions ranging from a $50 fine for keeping an illegal gambling place to residential burglary. He also commuted one man’s 90-year sentence to 60 years for possession with intent to manufacture and deliver a controlled substance. Rauner denied 150 other requests.

And on Nov. 23, he granted eight pardons and denied 208 petitions.

In his last sweep of the clemency petition queue before leaving office, former Gov. Pat Quinn granted 1,752 pardons and denied 3,014 requests for an approval rating of 37 percent.

Sealing reform is the way forward

Soon after taking office, Rauner declared his intent to reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent by 2025. While a pardon goes a long way toward making it easier for ex-offenders to find housing and secure credit – and even securing a license to find employment – it does not clear a person’s record.

Because it often takes a decade for a clemency petition to be given a hearing, it’s important that politicians make sealing reform a priority.

Many ex-offenders in Illinois are barred from entering their chosen professions – or simply from securing well-paying jobs – after serving their time. Without hope for a brighter future, it’s not hard to see why half of ex-offenders end up back behind bars within three years. Record sealing gives reformed ex-offenders a chance at re-entering the workforce in a meaningful way. One of the main barriers to good work that ex-offenders face is the scarlet letter a criminal record leaves on a job application, even after an ex-offender has served his or her time. In 2013, Illinois passed a law allowing ex-offenders to petition to have their records sealed, meaning only law enforcement and certain types of employers, such as schools, can see an ex-offender’s criminal record. But a person is only eligible for sealing after waiting three to four years from the end of his or her sentence, and not all ex-offenders are eligible. Illinois can break the cycle of crime and truly give ex-offenders a second chance by broadening sealing and eliminating wait times altogether.

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