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Following his first year in office, I posted an article about Governor Bruce Rauner’s record of granting clemency. Since then, little has changed. Governor Rauner granted the same percentage of petitions in 2016 as he did in 2015: a mere 3.6%.

In 2016, Governor Rauner granted 42 petitions, while denying 1,110. The governor’s clemency approval rate is a far cry from what it used to be.  Under Governor Pat Quinn, one-quarter to one-third of petitions were granted annually.

Not All Clemency Petitions Are Equal

Many factors I observed about last year’s successful petitioners remain eerily the same:

  • Felony convictions for burglary, drug offenses, and theft are commonly granted clemency.
  • Violent felony offenses are rarely, if ever, granted clemency.
  • The majority of crimes granted clemency occurred prior to 2000.

Setting aside the numbers, two noteworthy events occurred in 2016.

Governor Rauner Removes Backlog

First, Governor Rauner all but eliminated the backlog of pending clemency petitions he inherited. The governor has not shied away from publicizing this accomplishment. Last month he was quoted: “Our criminal justice system hasn’t served our residents well, and we’re trying to change it.” He went on to say that each clemency request “should be respected and treated on a timely basis.”

It begs the question how Governor Rauner’s miserly rate of granting clemency will positively impact the state’s criminal justice system to better serve its residents. Clemency is the remedy of last resort for those who cannot seal their criminal record. Having a criminal record is today’s scarlet letter.

Few Obstacles to Restoring F.O.I.D. Card Rights

Second, clemency petitioners seeking to restore their F.O.I.D. card rights no longer have to expressly request that these rights be restored. Governor Rauner, in a policy change, will automatically reinstate all rights lost because of a felony or misdemeanor conviction unless the governor expressly excludes the right to a F.O.I.D. card in the notice of clemency. This policy update will make it easier for individuals to restore their F.O.I.D. rights through clemency. In the past, petitioners had to ask that their F.O.I.D. rights be restored — a requirement that was not well publicized.

As someone who routinely advocates on behalf of clemency petitioners before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, I am mindful there is no tried and tested formula to obtaining clemency under the current governor. That being said, I still believe in the “institution” of clemency and will continue to represent individuals whose stories deserve to be heard and rewarded.

Two years remain on Governor Rauner’s current term in office. At least for the next two years, clemency recipients will be members of an exclusive club.

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