by Taylor McKelvey
Senator Michele Brooks began the presentation, “Pathway to Pardons” by saying that this program was not about “being soft” when it comes to crime, but about second chances.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack spoke about his passion for giving incarcerated people a second chance.
On Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, Pathways to Pardons Community Event, was hosted by Thiel College, State Sen. Michele Brooks, State Rep. Mark Longietti, and Stack.
When Stack took the podium, he spoke of the time that he had visiting Thiel College, calling it, “productive and meaningful.”
He said that the Pathways to Pardons program was “about hope and reinventing ourselves.” He focused on how hard it is to live life while having a criminal record, and believes that ex-offenders deserve second and third chances.
Stack also said, “every offense that someone could make is forgivable.” Through this program, Stack and his committee believe that criminals can reform and become exemplarily citizens.
The presentation included defining the word, clemency. According to Stack, clemency can be defined as forgiveness, especially to moderate the severity of punishment. It is generally granted in two categories: pardons and commutations.
Pardons relieve individuals of convicted crimes. A pardon constitutes total forgiveness by the state, but does not expunge the conviction; however, it allows a person to petition the court for an expungement of the conviction. A commutation is a reduction of a prison sentence or parole sentence currently being served.
Pathways to Pardons was launched in Pennsylvania in 2015. First, the application must be printed, which costs 18 dollars. Then, when the application is sent it costs 25 dollars.
There is also an option to request that the fees are waived: “forma pauperis.”
It currently takes three years to review pardon applications, but officials are working to cut that time in half. After the application is received, probation and parole agents conduct investigations on behalf of the Board of Pardons. Probation and parole investigations will inquire about residence, marital status, employment, resources, and several other aspects of applicants’ lives.
The next step is the merit review. Once reports are received from the investigation, the board votes to determine if an applicant will be granted a public hearing. Hearings are held in the State Supreme Court room, which is in the state Capital building in Harrisburg.
Applicants must be present, and others may speak in support of the applicant. The Board votes at the hearing on whether to recommend or deny an application to the Governor.
Special Assistant Secretary to Sate of Human Services Jason Snyder spoke about the importance of pardons in relation to addiction. Snyder explained his family life, and he was the oldest of three boys. Both of his brothers died of overdoses and he became addicted to opioids. Because of this addiction, he said, he has not had a painkiller of alcohol in over six years.
Relating back to his personal experience, Snyder said that he had “recovery capital.” This means that he had a good job, a safe home, family, and a college degree, when he came out of rehab/jail.
Snyder said, he believes that most people choose another crime after leaving rehab or jail because they do not have these things, and cannot get them. Snyder said, “hope diminishes due to not having these things.”
Through the Pathway to Pardons Program, incarcerated people have the chance to have a normal life again. The given the opportunity to gain some of their rights back, such as owning firearms, serving jury duty, international travel, and employment opportunities.
Ryan Yoder, Statewide Veterans Coordinator for the corrections department said Pennsylvania has 3000 incarcerated veterans. That is seven percent of the total inmate population within our state facilities. He said, a facility veteran coordinator has been assigned to each institution to help and support inmate veterans.
Within the veteran information packet, information regarding benefits and services offered by the DOC include applications for a DD214, requesting military records and n enrollment for VA health benefits.
Yoder said, Veteran Service Units are transitional housing units for incarcerated veterans, to prepare them for successful reentry into their respective communities. He said that these units, one of which is at Mercer County’s state prison, are “breathtaking.”
“We are punishing ourselves, not just the inmates, by giving them a criminal record. They could fill jobs, volunteer, and donate,” Stack said.