For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 42

It has been estimated that 60% of the people who live in Philadelphia's lowest income
neighborhoods have criminal records, and that more than 80% of employers and
landlords check those records as part of background checks. Our society can invest every
dollar we have in job training and workforce development, but we have no chance to
succeed if these individuals are still prevented by the bad choices they made decades ago
from getting the jobs or housing for which they are qualified today.7
It goes even farther than that: criminal records impoverish entire communities. In its 2017 study
Philadelphia's Poor: Experiences from Below the Poverty Line, the Pew Foundation reported that 91% of
those released to Philadelphia from Pennsylvania's state prisons returned to zip codes identified as lowincome.8
There is a way up and out, but just one. In April 2020, the Economy League issued its path-breaking
report that proved just how much money was being returned to communities across the Commonwealth
simply by having the Governor pardon people for having committed crimes that were far in the past: an
estimated $16.5 million in additional wages in less than a decade9 without so much as a dime spent on public
programs. The League urged " policy makers and government officials [to] broaden their understanding
of pardons to include their potential to generate economic investment and growth in areas of the state in
which formerly incarcerated individuals often live. " Expanding access to pardons, they wrote, " stands to
economically improve the individual lives of those formerly incarcerated, their families, the communities
in which they live, and the Commonwealth as a whole. " 10
So, what are pardons, and how do they fit into the criminal justice system?

Pardons
Hakim's involvement with the criminal justice system began when he was just a kid.
Caught with marijuana when he was 16, he was sent to reform school. In his early 20s,
after several arrests, he was convicted of passing counterfeit money, which he probably
took in a drug deal; then possession of cocaine with intent to deliver; and on the third
drug bust, he was sentenced to prison. While incarcerated in 2006, he stopped using
drugs, converted to Islam, and set his sights on becoming an accountant, for which he
has completed the coursework - but the convictions bar him from that career. After a
decade of being stuck in dead-end, low-paying work, he applied for a pardon with the
help of Penn Law students. On September 4, 2020, the Board of Pardons voted 5-0 to
recommend him to the Governor.
From the very beginnings of this country, the chief executive officer of every state and of the federal
government (when it came to be invented) has had the ability to forgive (pardon) offenders for almost any
crime or offense. Pardons have been called " the exercise of the sovereign's prerogative of mercy, " 11 " an act
of grace, " 12 and " forgiveness by the state. " 13 Originally vested in William Penn by King Charles II in 1681,14
the power to pardon has been in every Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In response
to " allegations and constant suspicion of abuse, real or imagined, " the Constitution was amended in 1872
to include a " Board of Pardons " whose approval would thereafter be required before the Governor could
act.15 Here's what our Constitution says:
ยง 9. Pardoning power; Board of Pardons.
(a) In all criminal cases except impeachment the Governor shall have power to remit fines and
forfeitures, to grant reprieves, commutation of sentences and pardons; but no pardon shall be
granted, nor sentence commuted, except on the recommendation in writing of a majority of the
Board of Pardons, and, in the case of a sentence of death or life imprisonment, on the unanimous
recommendation in writing of the Board of Pardons, after full hearing in open session, upon due
public notice. The recommendation, with the reasons therefor at length, shall be delivered to the
Governor and a copy thereof shall be kept on file in the office of the Lieutenant Governor in a docket
kept for that purpose.

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For The Defense l Vol. 5, Issue 4



For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

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