Granting Clemency in Illinois

Gov. Quinn Gave Many Convicted Felons Something to Celebrate Before Stepping Down: CLEMENCY     

For those who believe in second chances, 2014 was a good year for some Illinois residents, who have former Governor Pat Quinn to thank. During his tenure, which ended in January 2015, Governor Quinn would rule on 4,928 clemency petitions — the most of any Illinois governor.

Between Thanksgiving Eve 2014 and his last day in office, Governor Quinn granted clemency to 682 individuals, which were in addition to the 1,113 he'd previously granted. Four of my clients were among the last group of successful clemency candidates.

Some believe that applying for clemency is a crap shot. I disagree. Unlike Wisconsin, where the governor refuses to use his clemency powers, Governor Quinn was not afraid to grant clemency. Although it is true that Governor Quinn denied more petitions than he granted (36%), I still believe that clemency is within arm’s reach.

In Illinois, clemency is not limited to those with influence, as is the case in some states. None of my clients were people of means. No politician picked up the phone or wrote a letter on their behalf.

After my clients appeared before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, I never doubted that they would receive clemency. Rather, it was just a question of when they would receive it.

One of my clients waited nearly three years to hear the words “You got clemency!” on New Year’s Eve. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year, can you?

The reason why I never doubted my clients’ qualifications was because they were able to show me through their words and actions that their criminal past did not inform their current lives. But the mistakes they’d made as teenagers or young adults continued to stigmatize them in ways both large and small.

There are many reasons why people get caught up in the web of our criminal justice system. Whether due to addiction, mental illness, personal association, or immaturity, most of these individuals can learn from their mistakes. However, we need people who are willing to listen and not prejudge them.

Will Governor Bruce Rauner take the time to listen? I hope so because I am already working on my next clemency petition.