The problem stems from people’s misconception of the pardon process. Many have this impression that a pardon is basically used to free convicts from prison. The truth is that most forms of executive clemency are pardons granted to those whose sentences have long been over, by several years or even decades. It is a way to clear their criminal record so that they may move on with their lives. But unfortunately what people see are sensationalized headlines that the governor is pardoning convicted felons.
Sadly, this is the main reason why many governors, like Barbour, choose to wait on making executive clemency decisions until they’re walking out the door. According to Reuters, “Barbour granted 222 acts of clemency in his tenure… All but eight came in the final days of his tenure.” Many governors wait because it is a risky political maneuver to grant executive clemency. First, a governor runs the risk of a public backlash because he “freed convicted felons.” Second, if any of those receiving a pardon ever so much as gets arrested again, you better believe it’s all over the local news. Many governors simply play it safe by giving executive clemency when the possible repercussions have lowest impact, i.e., when they’re leaving office. So those with criminal records must sit and wait for years before they can move on with their lives.
Fortunately for those of us in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn is very pro-pardon. He has been making executive clemency decisions throughout his tenure, usually a couple hundred every few months. However, there is still the political risk of possible re-offenders. This is why I always tell clients that you must have a good showing of rehabilitation to be a good candidate for a pardon. You have to convince Governor Quinn, and the Prisoner Review Board who provide Quinn with guidance, that there is no chance that you will ever commit another crime. Otherwise, he is taking the chance of making national headlines like Barbour.