Updated Tips for Commutation Application – Pennsylvania

Update February 25, 2020:

We were recently informed by J. Johnson that the PA Board of Pardons (PABOP) no longer wants support letters before the applicant passes Merit Review and that then, they will only take letters that offer tangible reentry support. (housing, jobs etc)

Several of us agree, that letters of support are still important and there was a time in the not so distant past that you had to have them. It was reported that Brandon Flood and Naomi Blount told women at Muncy last month that nobody don’t read the letters.  Again we think it’s a good idea to gather the letters and have them ready for when you pass the merit review.

These tips are tailored for people serving death by incarceration sentences and updated January 30, 2020 including 2020 Board of Pardon Dates.

Note for Long Termers -People sentenced to 20- 40 years etc. The only difference in the commutation application for longtermers is that you only need 3 out of 5 votes to be recommended to the Governor – whereas lifers need a unanimous 5. In addition you may not have a personal interview with the board of pardons before your public hearing.

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit – Printable Pdf Version – includes Tips, plus DOC flow chart, BOP Factors for Release, Letter of Reconsideration – 12 double sided pages – 6 pieces of paper

More easily printable resources at bottom of post.

Application Stage

  • It is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission.
  • As of January 2020 you need to use the newly revised application. People in prison can get a copy of the application by going through a counselor or at the Law Library.  People on the outside can also send an application by downloading it through the Board of Pardons website. As of 2019 there are on longer fees associated with this application There aren’t any major changes for lifers, so no new information is required but you are required to submit the latest version of the application. Nothing to sweat here! You can request an application by writing to Board of Pardons 333 Market Street. 15th Floor. Harrisburg, PA 17126. It takes 3 weeks. Include your name and DOC number.
  • For questions about the application contact John Johnson, Pardons Case Specialist Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050. Phone: 717-728-0386 johjohnson@pa.gov  You can also try Brandon Flood at bflood@pa.gov.
  • Application Status Update (717) 787-2596 (From BOP website) All phone calls are taken between 11:00 am and 4:30 pm (Eastern Time).
  • Supporters can now email letters of recommendation to the board of pardons. Contact Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and put it in the applicants packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.
  • Take a look at the DOC policy on commutation at your law library: 11.4.1

Tips for writing a commutation application

Updated January 2020 Ellen Melchiondo, The Women’s Lifer Resume Project

The new commutation application is free and there is no filing fee. The application is available on the BOP website and in the prison library. The application includes supplemental pages and you must use them. Do not write “see attachment” in spaces where information continues. There is a box at the end of each section where you indicate if you will be including supplemental information. Information that you want to provide such as resume or published work should just be sent along with the application.

If you are not in prison and assisting an applicant what I do is download the application pdf.  I save it to my desktop and a text box automatically appears. I also get rid of the text lines, and select white to make the background solid. This makes it easier to read.

Here’s a rundown on each section for people with life sentences:

Section 1 Type of Clemency: Check “Commute Life Sentence to Life on Parole” and do your best to remember each time you previously applied.

Section 2 Applicant Information: Just the facts. If using the DOC-Parole for representation click the box, the address is below. If using someone else, give that information.

Section 3 Convictions for Which Clemency is Requested:  Less information is asked here: “place, role and caught.” Use a supplemental page if needed. Do not minimize role. Don’t add dialogue. Don’t make excuses. Minimize details, you’re not writing a memoir or screenplay.

Section 4 Additional Criminal Information: Fill out Section 4 to the best of your ability because parole provides the rap sheet to the DOC commutation office. No one is expected to pay for their criminal history report.

Section 5 Optional Personal Statement: is totally optional. No more checking boxes to address reasons for applying. One page is usually enough.

I think now, less is more in Section 5. An explanation about your life circumstances before and during serving time is good. Accomplishments in list form. Home plan if you have one.  You can list your supporters and how they will help you. Be sincere, humble and realistic about your goals.

Section 6: Sign and date.Mail your application to: Pardons Case Specialist/Parole Manager Bureau of Standards and Accreditation Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole 1920 Technology Parkway Mechanicsburg, PA 17050  Keep a copy for yourself!

Tips for writing about your crime

One of the most challenging aspects for those who are pursuing commutation is to explain the role they played in the crime. Again,it is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission. When writing about the details of your crime, it is important to be both detailed and concise. Do not leave any information out, but also try to be straight to the point.  One challenge is knowing how much to share about what led up to the crime. For women in general, this cannot be omitted or separated. Since the Board of Pardons doesn’t tell us what swayed them to vote for or against an applicant, a 360 degree perspective is owed to the process. It really is up to women lifers to educate the board of the unique crimes that they find themselves convicted of. It’s a balancing act. You want to provide context for your situation without excusing or diminishing your role.

You no longer have to admit to things you didn’t do as was the thought under the old commutation process. Before, your story had to match that of the State. Now you can tell your truth but it is important to take responsibility for your role. If you are wrongfully convicted – you are still convicted in the eyes of the state. So it is basically a plea for mercy. Because this isn’t re-litigation it’s not a retrial – the most you might do is point out some evidence that they could see. This process isn’t set up for the wrongfully convicted – write Lt. Gov John Fetterman about this.

Staffing Stage

After you submit your application each applicant gets “staffed” by their prison. This “staffing” is also called The Special Review Committee and is generally one or two deputy superintendents, a Major of Unit Management, or a Corrections Classification Program Manager or whoever is designated by the superintendent. A person can also request a supportive staff person to be included too.

Current staff may not write letters of support.  They may submit an email to the respective Unit Manager to be included in the staffing packet.

Merit Review Stage

For updates on merit review contact Brandon Flood Bflood@pa.gov 717-480-0793 – Let it be known that there is most often incorrect information about who is going up for Merit Review – even if one of the BOP people tell us who is going up. Several times they have listed peoples names and several times they were not on the list.  Try to call the week before the scheduled merit review to obtain the most accurate info. You can also try John Johnson.

Before your merit review you will be interviewed by Wetzel: Secretary Wetzel instituted the policy of interviewing applicants before the merit review. There is nothing in policy mandating the Secretary to conduct video interviews with people in prison.  This is his policy and this could be discontinued by the next secretary one day. The secretary makes the ultimate decision by the Department of Corrections to recommend or not recommend an applicant for commutation. Your application will not get to the merit review until this interview happens.

You can now appeal a negative outcome during the Merit Review phase.  You have 30 days to submit a Letter of Reconsideration along with a form you can find on DOC website, this letter of reconsideration is attached below. George Trudell, Naomi Blount and Farouq Wideman were denied at merit review stage, filed the reconsideration letter and are now released!

Hearing Phase

After a person passes the merit review, they are moved to SCI Camp Hill for an in-person interview a few days before the hearings. One last noted change is that the prison staff person who supports the applicant at the public hearing will be attending the in-person interview at Camp Hill.

A recent change in the process is that the DOC Office of Pardons Specialists will not be representing lifers at public hearings. This job falls to a staff person at the prison and was Wetzel’s idea. The idea is that Staff here at Central Office will never know the people as well as the institutional staff. Applicants are not permitted to select the designated facility staff person.  This is the decision of the superintendent. They are still free to appoint someone else to represent you such as an attorney, friend or family member however, Mr. Johnson would not recommend since the representatives don’t have to speak as much and prepare long presentations as was the case in the past. But the representative must know the case inside and out and now how to prep the supporters in presentation.

Encourage your supporters to reach out to us if they have questions or just want some moral support. If they want to know what to expect, they can find a video on youtube of the full day of public hearings in May by searching: PA Board of Pardons, May 30, 2019. There is a shorter video highlighting Naomi and Cynthia’s hearing of the same day. Search youtube: PA Board of Pardons Hearing for Cynthia Gonzalez and Naomi Blount. Perhaps your counselors can pull it up for you as it is public and pertains directly to your situation.

2020 Board of Pardons Schedule

Merit Review Session:

Senate Hearing Room 8A East Wing at 3:00 p.m. (Telephone Conference Call)

Thursday February 6, 2020. Thursday, May 7, 2020 Thursday, August 6, 2020 Thursday, November 5, 2020

Public Hearing Sessions:

  • Wednesday March 4, 2020. Thursday March 5, 2020, (If Needed) Friday March 6, 2020(If Needed) *March Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, June 3, 2020 Thursday, June 4, 2020,Friday, June 5, 2020 (If Needed) * June Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, September 2, 2020, Thursday, September 3, 2020, Friday, September 4, 2020 (If Needed) *September Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, December 9, 2020 Thursday, December 10, 2020 Friday, December 11, 2020  (If Needed) *December Public Hearing Sessions will be held in Senate Hearing Room 1

Letters of Support and Letters of Recommendation are Important!

A Support Letter shows real support while on parole: housing, money, job, transportation, clothes, etc…

A letter of Recommendation explains why a person believes you are no longer a threat to public safety and have been rehabilitated. They can express other things like looking forward to spending time with you, showing you how to navigate the free world, etc..

Reminder: Supporters can now email letters to the board of pardons. Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and place in the applicant’s packet.

Keep in mind if you are writing to organizations for support letters and they don’t know you personally it is hard for them to write you a letter of support. Try building a relationship first.

Asking Friends and Family for Letters

Support your friends in supporting you!

Here is a sample letter people in prison can use to mobilize family and friends to write letters:

Re: (Your name) Commutation Support Letter

Dear

I am working on my commutation application. I would like to know if you would be interested in writing a letter of support, a character witness letter to the board of pardons on my behalf. If you are open to this the letter should be addressed to The Board of Pardons 333 Market St, Harrisburg, PA 17126 and include the following – RE: (commutation applicant’s name) Commutation of Life Sentence, letter writer’s return address and phone number.

The letter should state the following:

  1. Briefly touch on who you are, your background, employment, degrees, etc.
  2. Include Commutation Applicant’s Name, DOC Number and Prison
  3. How we came in contact with each other.
  4. Your thoughts on my maturity and rehabilitation.
  5. Your thoughts on my remorse for the offense I am convicted of.
  6. Your thoughts on my chances for successful reentry into society, employment and participation in society upon my release.
  7. Any willingness you would have in assisting in my reentry to society i.e. references, referrals, etc. when I am released.

When you are finished with the letter please send the original back to me. Please also keep a copy for yourself. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Xyour nameX


Other helpful documents:

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit – Printable Pdf Version – includes Tips, plus DOC flow chart, BOP Factors for Release, Letter of Reconsideration – 12 double sided pages – 6 pieces of paper

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit plus Sample Application – printable PDF version includes all of the above plus Naomi’s Application – 23 pages – 12 pieces of paper

Naomi Blount’s Commutation Application – Many people request a sample application.

Letter of Reconsideration –  if denied Merit Review

The Board of Pardons Filing Packet Packets Include Application:

  • Know Your Options (1 page)
  • Filing Instructions (3 pages)
  • Factors Sheet (2 pages)
  • Combined Application (7 pages)
  • Need More Space – Supplemental page instructions (1 page)
  • Supplemental Pages (4 pages)
      • Section 3 – Additional Cases – Convictions For Which Clemency Is Requested
      • Section 3 – Additional Offenses, Sentences, & Facts of Incident
      • Section 4 – Additional Criminal Information & Driver History
      • Section 5 – Additional Personal Statement

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Photo from October 2019 Rally to End Death By Incarceration sponsored by CADBI. Many people here are holding signs supporting the cause. Picture by NateArt

3 thoughts on “Updated Tips for Commutation Application – Pennsylvania

  1. Quite valuable. I’ve been getting more and more lifers asking for recommendations recently whom I don’t know very well. So, while trying to help, I can only write about things in general and what little I know of them and how I perceive them. With some of them, I know their families or other prisoners who know them and that helps. 

    • I believe it starts a 9am. There will be more info on the Board of Pardons website soon. There are also hearings on Sept 3.

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