Lt. governor: Here's how to get a pardon

Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor Michael J. Stack describes how people with criminal records can apply to be pardoned at a community meeting at the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute's Berean campus on Wednesday March 29.

It took a little prodding, but Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, Michael J. Stack, finally admitted how, as a youngster playing hooky from school, he bought cigarettes illegally and was caught.

Luckily for him, the store detective never followed through on his threat to send Stack to jail.

These days, Stack is still in touch with the criminal justice system, but is using his position as the chairman of the Board of Pardons to give hope to people who didn’t manage to escape records for crime.

“I want to give people second chances,” Stack said at a community seminar on the state criminal pardons process. He was invited to the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute’s Berean campus on Wednesday night by State Rep. Donna Bullock.

Stack has been traveling around the state, walking people through the pardons process. So far, he has conducted about 16 “Pathways to Pardons” sessions around the state, including several in Philadelphia.

Stack said that when he took office in January 2015, the pardons process had a five-year backlog. Now, he said, it’s at three years, and his goal is to bring it down to one. There are 929 applications currently pending, and the number of applications is up since Stack took office.

People who receive pardons can readily petition the courts to have their records expunged. There is a fee for the process, but people can apply to have it waived.

Pennsylvania legislators have pledged to draft legislation that will automatically seal records for minor misdemeanors, such as disorderly conduct, after a period of time. Under the “Clean Slate Act,” records for arrests without convictions will also be sealed. Law enforcement will still have access to the records, but not the general public.

Stack said that although the legislature is making progress, he decided to move ahead with the pardons process because it was something he could tackle immediately.

The Board of Pardons consists of Stack, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and three appointees by the governor, including a criminal justice expert, a psychiatrist or psychologist, and a crime victim. The board makes recommendations to the governor, who alone has the power to pardon or commute a sentence.

Stack explained that there are no official pardon guidelines, but he wants to see evidence of positive contributions to the community and for the applicant to express a sense of remorse and an acceptance of responsibility for bad decisions. 

In his experience, he has noted that drug addiction has pushed people into bad behaviors and decisions — decisions that they wouldn’t have made had they been sober and straight. But when they do get sober and straight, their progress is often impeded by their criminal record, which shuts them out of work opportunities.

“Hope is powerful,” he said, but “if they can’t get a job, they may say there’s no point in continuing.”

There will be two Philadelphia sessions in April: 
April 6, 6:30 p.m., United Association of Plumbers, Local 690, 2791 Southampton Rd.
April 20, 6 p.m., Corinthian Baptist Church, 6100 N. 21st St.  

One in an occasional series, part of a region-wide collaborative news project about the challenges — and solutions — of prison reentry in Philadelphia. Click here to read more work by our partners.