Good Friday Pardons in Illinois
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn used Good Friday (April 2) to grant pardons to 147 people convicted of low-level crimes, breaking with a recent trend among the nation's governors of scarcely using their clemency powers.
None of the people Quinn pardoned were behind bars, the Chicago Tribune reported . Instead, they were on probation for a variety of crimes, such as prostitution and theft, committed during the 1980s and 1990s.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich rarely granted clemency during his six years in office, allowing a backlog of nearly 2,500 cases to accrue, the Tribune reported. Friday was not the first time that Quinn has acted on that backlog; in total, he now has granted 321 pardons since taking office in January 2009, the paper said. He also denied 258 petitions on Friday.
Quinn's decision is notable on several fronts. One is that it's an election year, and the governor has already been battered politically over a program that granted accelerated releases to thousands of prison inmates — a program he called "a mistake." Potential political fallout may explain why Quinn's office chose to announce the pardons late on a Friday afternoon, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted :
"It's a tried-and-true political tradition of releasing potentially embarrassing information at times that are least likely to get attention," the paper said. "The hope is that the public is gearing up for the weekend and not watching the news, and (that) a lot of political reporters will have gone home early and missed the press releases altogether."
But Quinn's action is also notable because governors in general have become more reluctant to use their clemency powers, fearing political consequences.
Pardon Power, a respected blog about executive pardons run by an Illinois political science professor, noted in a posting on Friday that Quinn's action might be considered a "throwback" to a time when governors regularly granted pardons around the holidays.
"Indeed, there was a time when (governors) exercised clemency on a more regular basis and were especially expected to do so around Christmas and Easter," the professor, P.S. Ruckman Jr., wrote. "Wardens and other prison officials (nationwide) recognized this and sent their own recommendations in around those times of year accordingly."