Governor adds focus on systemic racism to pardon process

The governor has announced new guidelines around executive clemency that her administration says will help directly address systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

In making the announcement, Gov. Maura Healey also said she would recommend two more people for pardons on top of the 11 people she has already caused to be granted clemency with the consent of the Advisory Board of Pardons.

“Clemency is an important executive tool that can be used to soften the harsher edges of our criminal justice system. I am proud to release these new clemency guidelines that will center fairness and equity by taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each individual petitioner and the role of systemic biases,” Healey said along with the announcement.

According to the governor’s office, for the first time in state history, the governor’s clemency guidelines for petitioners will include her explicit language acknowledging “unfairness and systemic bias in the criminal justice system.”

Going forward, when reviewing a petition for clemency, the governor will consider “factors such as the petitioner’s age at the time of the offense, health, post-offense behavior, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, as well as whether they are a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence or human trafficking,” according to her staff.

The guidelines are meant to help petitioners who are considering applying understand what will be reviewed and assist the Advisory Board of Pardons with review of petitions.

Though it is not unheard of, it is unusual for a governor to consider, let alone recommend, as many pardons as Healey has in the first year of her administration. According to Healey’s staff, it has been 30 years since a governor issued pardons in the first year of their first term, and none in 40 years have issued as many so soon as Healey.

“We’re grateful that Governor Healey sees clemency as a means to address injustices in the criminal legal system. Pardons and commutations are an important tool to not just improve individual lives but also to right historic wrongs, remedy racial inequities, and fix systemic failures,” ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose said in a statement.

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