Note: This is the second post in a series on state pardoning. The first discussed Governor Tony Evers’ reinvigoration of clemency in Wisconsin.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown, along with the state legislature, have reimagined how Oregon grants executive clemency, early release, and record relief. Brown has issued more pardons and commutations than any Oregon governor in recent history, according to Aliza Kaplan, the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis and Clark University. In addition, Brown signed two bills into law this year that will significantly improve access to judicial remedies for people with a conviction record, thereby reducing the need for executive pardons. The bills, discussed in greater detail below, reduce barriers to record clearance via set-aside and sealing, and create a mechanism for prosecutors to agree to vacate a conviction or reduce a person’s sentence when it no longer serves the interests of justice.
In the first five years of her tenure, Governor Brown granted 20 pardons. From March 9, 2020, through November 2021, Governor Brown has granted 35 pardons. (This letter from the Governor to the state legislature covers the period from March 9, 2020 to June 25, 2021; according to Kaplan, Brown granted two more pardons between June and November.) Governor Brown pardoned people with a wide range of offenses, from murder, to DUI, narcotics possession, and other offenses. In at least one case pardon was granted based on a determination of innocence.
In October 2021, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued 15 pardons, adding to the 71 grants he made over the summer, bringing the total number of pardons since he took office in 2019 to an impressive 278.
To contextualize this number, the Wisconsin Pardon Database, which extends back to 1977, contains a total of 986 pardons. In just 30 months, Governor Evers has accounted for more than a quarter of all pardons granted in Wisconsin over the last half century. This is particularly significant because pardon is the only way that a person with an adult Wisconsin conviction can regain rights and status lost as a result of conviction.
Equally notably, Governor Evers has reinvigorated a dormant pardon process after years of neglect. Scott Walker, who served two terms as governor before Evers, did not grant a single pardon. But the Pardon Advisory Board (PAB) is appointed by the governor to oversee applications and hearings, and to make recommendations for or against pardon. Perhaps the board simply neglected its job?
The truth is unfortunately far more disappointing. Walker not only never granted a single pardon, but he also never even appointed the PAB during his nine years in office. Instead, he announced a principled opposition to pardoning anyone, declaring that “these decisions are best left up to the courts.” But, as noted, Wisconsin has no general statutory mechanism for obtaining criminal record relief in the courts, and Governor Scott appears never to have sought one. It seems he did not consider the use of the pardon power other than to reduce a prison sentence.
The recent neglect of Wisconsin’s pardon system makes Governor Evers’s commitment to executive clemency more impressive. Upon entering office, Governor Evers immediately reinstated the PAB and started the upward trend of grants.
We write with an update on our continued work to promote public discussion of restoration of rights and opportunities for people with a record. Highlights from this year’s work are summarized below, including roundups of new legislation, case studies on barriers to expungement, policy recommendations, and a new “fair chance lending” project to reduce criminal history barriers to government-supported loans to small businesses. We thank you for your interest and invite your comments as our work progresses. Read more
Scholars, practitioners, and those affected by the criminal system can now more easily access relevant and timely scholarship related to collateral consequences. CCRC has updated the Books and Academic Articles page of its resources section to facilitate quicker retrieval of relevant content. Specifically, CCRC has organized the relevant books and academic articles by category. These categories offer a wide array of academic perspectives on collateral consequences, restoration of rights, and record relief.
CCRC has similarly updated the books and academic articles section with new and potent scholarship, and expanded the coverage of restoration of voting rights. New scholarship since 2020 runs the gamut of collateral consequences, and includes work on expungement and record relief, executive clemency, drug related issues, and issues of inequity. The page has also been updated to include the most recent edition of the Federal Sentencing Reporter on the past, present, and future of the Federal pardon power, guest-edited by our Executive Director Margaret Love and featuring our Board Chair Gabriel J. Chin and our Deputy Director David Schlussel.
CCRC hopes that the resource section will continue to offer an array of insightful academic pieces for scholars, practitioners, and those seeking to restore their own rights.