The Lead

IT problem derails Pa. Pardons Board votes on commutations; deliberations expected to resume Thursday

By: - September 2, 2020 5:47 pm

Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons meets interviews an applicant Wednesday who hoped to have a criminal record expunged. The board encountered technical difficulties Wednesday afternoon.

(This story was updated at 6:50 p.m. on 9/2/20 to include new information from Fetterman spokesperson Christina Kauffman, and Pardons Board Secretary Brandon Flood.)

Pennsylvania prisoners hoping to have their lengthy sentences cut short have been in limbo for much of 2020, first due to gridlock on the state’s powerful Board of Pardons and then by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their high-stakes cases were supposed to finally proceed on Wednesday – until a technical glitch got in the way.

IT teams were working late in the afternoon to figure out what interrupted the pardon board’s live stream at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, Christina Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the board’s chairman, Lt. Gov John Fetterman, said.

The panel was scheduled to consider the first of nearly two dozen commutation cases that day, a docket from the Lt. Governor’s office shows. The public hearings were being held virtually, for the first time in the board’s history, to comply with social distancing measures.

The board hopes to fix the problem so hearings can proceed Thursday morning.

“You can’t predict when there’s going to be a technical issue,” Kauffman said. “The plan is to get this diagnosed and come back at it tomorrow.”

*Kauffman said the board was able to continue with non-voting activities Wednesday after its public livestream faltered. That included interviews with prisoners seeking commutations, which take place at a state prison and are not open to the public. 

Life on hold: How the COVID-19 pandemic derailed Pennsylvania’s pardons board

The Board of Pardons heard dozens of clemency requests on Tuesday and Wednesday from people hoping to have their criminal records expunged.

But it had not yet considered any of the cases from people sentenced to life in prison, who can appeal to the panel for early release.  

The board is slated to vote on 21 commutations for lifers this week. They’ll also vote on one commutation for a prisoner hoping to have a lengthy sentence reduced. 

The first of those cases was scheduled to come before the board on Wednesday.

*Pardons Board Secretary Brandon Flood said Wednesday evening that the board would consider commutation cases Thursday and Friday. But he said the board would vote on the cases all at once on Friday, after the hearing for each case had concluded.

In a typical public hearing in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court chambers, the board will receive testimony from a lifer’s friends, family and correctional experts, as well as from the family of any victims.

Kauffman said the technical difficulty the board encountered Wednesday had nothing to do with the type of cases that were up for review. 

The pardons board is also scheduled to vote on dozens more clemency requests from ex-offenders Thursday and Friday, including applicants who sought expedited review under a new program for marijuana-related charges. 

Fetterman, Shapiro say they both believe in second chances. Pardons board votes tell two different stories

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.