Rep. Morales legislation would create a commission to make pardon recommendations


STATE HOUSE – The last time a Rhode Island governor issued a pardon was in 2011 when Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee granted a complete and full pardon to man hanged in 1845. New legislation from Rep. David Morales aims to make pardons timelier and more frequent.

“Pardons are an important tool in the criminal justice system as they can overturn unjust outcomes and allow our neighbors to fully re-enter their communities, no longer facing the barriers that a formerly convicted person faces when trying to find a job or housing,” said Representative Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence). “However, given that our state lacks a formal process to apply for a pardon, much less a commission to consider applicants, this vital, constitutionally-defined component of our justice system is completely neglected. So, on behalf of the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who have served their time and want to move forward with their lives, I am introducing legislation to establish a commission dedicated to making executive pardons a common practice.”

In Rhode Island, pardons can only be granted by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. There is no formal application process or eligibility requirements to those seeking a pardon or themselves or others; they must send a written request to the governor’s office, with no timeline for when an applicant will receive a response, and no dedicated personnel to review their application.

This bill (2024-H 7638) would establish a commission to provide recommendations for executive pardons to the governor. The commission would set up a formal process to request a pardon, including determining eligibility requirements, the application and supporting documents needed, the timeline for when the applicant would receive a response, and the process to appeal the recommendation. The nine-member commission would consist of appointees from state judicial and government offices as well as community advocacy groups.

“This commission would assist many who paid their debt to society advance further in life, as a result of passing this bill. They would no longer be held back from their past and have the opportunity to pursue an even better future. This is criminal justice reform,” said Juan Wilson Jr., founder of The MUSE Foundation of Rhode Island.

When developing this legislation, Representative Morales looked to neighboring Connecticut, where pardons are granted regularly. Unlike Rhode Island, Connecticut’s constitution places the power to pardon in the General Assembly, which then passed laws to create the Board of Pardons, which not only oversees the application process, but makes the final decision on whether to grant a pardon or not. Representative Morales’s bill would create a similar board to process applications and make recommendations to the governor to make the final decision, with the advice and consent of the Senate. On average, Connecticut grants over 400 pardons per year.



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