Preparing For The Merit Review: Commutation process

By Ellen Melchiondo, Women Lifers Resume Project

After attending my second merit review session with the Board of Pardons I wanted to find out what  factors in determining a decision to vote for or against a public hearing for lifers besides the application’s contents.  Secretary Wetzel interviews each applicant before the merit review and after the staffing. He reads the staffing reports. Many of us feel that if you get Wetzel’s approval that should at least translate to a yes vote by the DOC’s BOP representative. That is not the case. The battery of tests taken also likely influences their decision.

If Lt. Governor Stack embraces second chances and votes no, how does he get to that judgement?

I learned that once a commutation application is officially filed with the BOP, the application is shared with the committing county’s DA, judge or president judge, victims and possibly the magisterial district. This information is found on page 6 in the Pathways to Pardons booklet.

I am starting to believe that it is necessary that family members and supporters of a commutation applicant reach out and have a conversation with the DA and president judge before the merit review. At that time stress the applicant’s humanity and emphasize the support you are willing to give.

Recently an applicant was denied commutation after a public hearing even with the victim’s family support. The committing county’s DA opposed it. Would it have helped if the victim’s family in this case had a conversation with the DA before the merit review and the public hearing? (I don’t know which member of the BOP voted yes to move on to the public hearing. This information would help to analyze the outcome; three members voted yes for the public hearing.)   On one hand the DA’s MO is to protect the victims. But what happens when the victim’s don’t want the DA’s protection?! Who does the DA work for? Did the DA influence the AG and corrections expert who voted no at the public hearing? Interestingly, the DA and corrections expert are from the same county-Bucks.

This is a very frustrating process especially since we know so much about the nearly non-existence in reoffending by life sentenced people.  The reality of commutation for lifers in PA is dark and complicated but to not apply is not only giving up hope, it keeps the system in place.  By putting your life story out there and facing the consequences it is only then that we on the outside can push to dismantle it thereby improving the outcomes-possibly. Always file for a reconsideration.

PA Pathway to Pardons Guide

This is a 24 page resource guide published by Mike Stack – LT Governor

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