Report: Nearly 200 pardons still await Wolf’s signature | Tuesday Morning Coffee

August 18, 2020 7:17 am

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democat, joined a Black Lives Matter protest Wednesday, June 3, 2020, that marched through the state capital Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo).

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Since taking office nearly two years ago, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has rightfully crowed about the changes he’s made to Pennsylvania’s formerly Byzantine pardons process. From waiving fees to appointing two formerly incarcerated people to serve as liaisons, the system looks noticeably different with Fetterman as its chairman.

But as our colleagues at The Appeal report, the process has been stymied in what seems the most unlikely of places: The office of Fetterman’s boss, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Nearly 200 people have spent months waiting for Wolf to clear their criminal records by signing off on the documents that Fetterman’s board has already approved.

Last year, the board approved nearly 300 applications, The Appeal’s Joshua Vaughn reported. Of those, 177 still await Wolf’s signature. A spokesperson for WolfSara Goulet, says the York County Democrat is “under no time constraint,” for making a decision about whether to approve a pardon.

Which is true — and all well and good — were it not for the fact that the people whose fates are in Wolf’s hands aren’t getting any younger. During public appearances, Fetterman has frequently spoken of the decades that pardon applicants have spent languishing in prison and the toll taken on commutation applicants, as they’re held in thrall by an unresponsive system.

Gov. Tom Wolf marches at a Black Lives Matter protest in Harrisburg on June 3, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

So, who exactly, is waiting for executive action?

According to state data, “more than 70 percent of all clemency cases that the board heard in 2019, which includes both commutations and pardons requests, involved nonviolent offenses,” The Appeal’s Vaughn reported. Goulet further added that the cases awaiting action from Wolf “run the gamut from misdemeanor to felony and do include some violent crimes,” Vaughn wrote.

That’s left reformers and advocates for the incarcerated scratching their heads.

“The impact that a conviction has on an individuals’ ability to move forward in life is stunning,” Ryan Hancock, co-founder and board chairperson of the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, told Vaughn. Notably, a criminal record makes it nearly impossible for someone to get a job — an issue made all the more critical by the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s runaway employment rate, Vaughn noted.

“Not only have they long served their sentence and paid back their debt to society, but these are individuals who have succeeded despite all the collateral consequences they face every day,” Hancock told The Appeal. “These are individuals who are just grasping at the opportunity to live like every ordinary citizen.”

In June, Wolf made statewide headlines when he marched with Black Lives Matter protesters in midtown Harrisburg. There, he pleaded the case for police reform, and stressed the importance of equal justice. Not long after, Wolf signed important police reform legislation. Despite decreases, data show Blacks still comprise the majority of state prison populations.

He can finish that work, and really show that he meant it when he held that sign up there, by clearing out the backlog.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Daycare centers shouldered big costs and shutdowns from COVID-19. Some say they can’t reopen without more aid, Elizabeth Hardison reports. 

The Wolf administration announced 639 grants to employers Monday that will give 41,500 workers a temporary $3 an hour pay bump from now until late- October, Stephen Caruso reports.

This morning, we’re pleased to announce a new publishing partnership with Presenté, Pittsburgh’s Latino Magazine. We’ll be running their stories, in English and in Spanish, in our pages, while they’ll be doing the same with our politics coverage. This morning: Todo listo para la celebración virtual de regreso a clases del Latino Community Center de Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has given the organizers of two encampments until 9 a.m. Tuesday to vacate their spots, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

In Pittsburgh, youth-led protest organizers are disputing police claims about being to blame for communication failures during this weekend’s protests, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular John A. Tures says the Post Office is a core function of government and we have to fight efforts to undermine it. And Pa.’s building trade unions need to be allies, not opponents, of a cleaner climate, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, writes.

(Image via

With COVID-19 infections on the rise among young people, the debate over fall sports continues, the Inquirer reports.
The state will spend $10 million to purchase surplus milk and produce to distribute to food banks, the Tribune-Review reports.
The pandemic has caused a nationwide appliance shortage — PennLive explains how that’s happened.
Post Office equipment has been removed in the Lehigh Valley, postal union officials tell the Morning Call, provoking fears of delayed mail and ballots.
The Citizens-Voice looks at how Luzerne County colleges are preparing for the start of classes.
GoErie talks to Erie County lawmakers about developments at the Postal Service.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

After another weekend of gun violence, Philadelphia residents are ‘on edge,’ WHYY-FM reports.
The State College School Board is set to vote on going remote after two weeks of in-person classes, WPSU-FM reports.
Jobless numbers are up in seven states, and remain the same in 22 others, reports.
Roll Call 
rounds up the first night of the Democratic National Convention. 

What Goes On.
1 p.m. 140MC:
 House Transportation Committee hearing on Transportation Task Force report.
1 p.m., Senate Chamber: The House & Senate Education committees hold a joint hearing on school reopening issues.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.:
 Reception for Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia. Admission runs $150 to $1,000.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to regular reader Joe McDermott, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
We’re in an Oasis frame of mind this morning. So here’s ‘Roll With It.‘ Play this one loud, open the windows, and wake the neighbors.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
had a four-goal third period, beating the ‘Canes 4-3 on Mondaypushing Carolina to the brink of elimination in its Eastern Conference playoff series.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.