PA Needs Compassionate Release for terminally ill people in prison

The concept of Compassionate Release is the idea that if a person in prison is so ill that the state would have mercy on them and allow them to live the end of their life outside of prison.  Here in PA the phrasing of medical release is more accurate. The PA statute does not say “compassionate” and it is decidedly not compassionate.

In the time of the corona virus Pa needs compassionate release now more than ever.

In a March 16 press release, Families Against Mandatory Minimum announced that the FAMM General Counsel and compassionate release expert, Mary Price, is available to answer questions, and to comment on how state and local governments should use compassionate release and elderly home confinement during this unprecedented COVID-19 national pandemic.

“People who are eligible for compassionate release should be promptly assessed and released to their families, where they can receive better care,” said Price. “Prison and jail medical units will rapidly be overrun by a COVID-19 outbreak and will need as many beds as possible for critical care patients. It makes no sense to keep other people who are terminally ill or medically debilitated occupying those beds.”

In the 2018 article, Release programs for sick and elderly prisoners could save millions. But states rarely use them, author Gina Barton provides an overview of programs in different states highlighting Wisconsin. “..hundreds of the state’s elderly prisoners — many of whom prison officials acknowledge pose little or no risk of committing new crimes — aren’t allowed to apply, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found. ”

Barton reports, “While these programs are presented as money savers, in 2015 a majority of states granted release to fewer than four applicants each. Within states that have a compassionate release program and track the numbers, there were 3,030 people who applied, with only 216 being granted release”

According to this study, in 2015 PA received 8 applications and only granted 3.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 1.57.53 PMJoanne Butler, who was serving a life sentence was released last September on medical release. She lived the last three months of her life on house arrest with an ankle monitor, to which her family protested as cruel and inhumane. Joanne passed away on November 23, 2019. Joanne was featured in the film the Dying Outloud.

35 women sentenced to life without parole have died in custody since 1982, one of the most recent Diane Metzger was also profiled in Dying Outloud.

The eligibility requirements for compassionate release in PA are so strict and has so many different boxes to check that the guide from the PA Institutional Law Project is probably the simplest and shortest way to break it down. It is an overly complex process that is not designed to be “compassionate” at all, but to make it as easy as possible for judges/DA’s/DOC to deny people’s requests for compassionate release. Families Against Mandatory Minimums created this readable guide for medical release Pennsylvania. They also have a state by state guide and a lot of info on supporting people in Federal prisons finding relief.

 

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Click here to find a flow chart

 

 

 

 

Tips for applying for Medical Release in PA

  • There are 2 different paths for compassionate release: 1 if you’re seeking to go to a long-term nursing or hospital facility; and 1 if you’re seeking to go to hospice care.
  • The laymans version of PA’s medical release program is that a person can be released to an outside medical provider if a doctor expects them to die soon and if the person has medical needs that would be provided for better outside of the DOC. The law only allows someone to be released to either a long-term nursing facility, hospital, or hospice provider. (Joanne was released to her home so maybe this isn’t always the case.)
  • The non-ambulatory requirement is only applicable to those who do not qualify for the first type of medical release, meaning it is only a requirement for those who have detainers for other convictions/sentences or charges. The statute lays out the two possibilities for medical release, each with its own cluster of conditions.
  • The doctor must be a DOC doctor or a DOC-contracted doctor. Technically, the statutory language says the “treating physician,” and DOC does not permit non-DOC doctors or contractors to treat those in its custody.
  • It isn’t necessary to have a lawyer, but it would be very difficult to handle without a lawyer.
  • Every prison in PA – State Correctional Institution has a health care administrator. You can call them for information too.
  • Someone who wants to request medical release should definitely have people on the outside helping them, since they need to file paperwork from a medical facility acknowledging that the facility will take them if they are released (and in some cases acknowledging that they will keep the DOC informed of updated in case the person’s health improves). This would be tough to navigate from prison.
  • In terms of time, it depends on the judge. It can be handled pretty quickly (like within a few weeks from filing), but it just depends on when the judge decides to schedule a hearing or make a decision. It is most likely in all cases they need to make sure that the DA has time to reach out to the victim (if there is one) and the victim has the right to offer their thoughts. So that can also take some time.

 

Thanks to Bret Grote, Quinn Cozzens, Elaine Selan and Ellen Melchiondo for all of their knowledge and research.

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

Welcome to Pittsburgh Tamie!

“Everybody in Pittsburgh is in a hurry to go nowhere fast.” — Tamie Gates

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Tamie Gates pictured in front of the  Allegheny River and a train bridge.

On October 16, Tamie Gates moved to Pittsburgh after serving 27 years in PA prisons, mostly at Cambridge Springs.

Tamie Gates spoke with Alan Lewandowski about coming home.

LGF: What would you want to tell someone planning to come home?

Tamie: If possible, make sure you get some computer classes before you get your release.

Even so, what you really need is internet classes. At the moment, those are not offered, and it is a disservice that it is not provided. I have a fair amount of computer literacy and it’s still a big adjustment for me coming out here where everything is on a computer.  Get as much computer experience as you can.

Also, if you’re relocating to a new area, get as much information about the area as you can before your release. It would be great if you are able to get street maps.

The prison really doesn’t prepare you to be successful out in the world, and it is not the concern of the institution.

LGF: So you can’t get maps on the inside?

Tamie: You can look at the atlas in the library or look at a globe. But there is no way to get street maps and bus maps that will actually show where you will be living and need to go, which would be very valuable tools for preparation.

Another thing is be prepared to be thrifty.

I took a money smart class at Cambridge Springs before I left, but they should do a re-entry class demonstrating to people the prices of objects in the outside world.  So you can understand ahead of time how much you’ll need to budget for the things you might need.

Or you can just shop at the dollar store.

LGF: What prices shocked you the most?

Tamie: A gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and the cost of lunch meat- even baloney.  Who knew it could be so high for baloney- $5 a package?- that’s crazy. At the same time prepare yourself to be very patient, because things don’t move as fast as you think they will, and it could take you quite a while to acquire a job.

LGF: What are the biggest challenges in the job search?

Tamie: The internet.  There is a lack of hand-written applications, and everywhere you go someone says “Apply online. Apply online!!!” Apply online means expect to spend an hour and a half on the computer, and you’ll hear back in a month.  Be prepared to be patient.

In general, prepare as much as possible before you come home.  Prepare for what you don’t think is going to happen. Get all your various resumes as ready as you can.

LGF: You have been volunteering regularly at two local shelters.  What drew you to this kind of service.

Tamie: Because Felicia Chapman was part of the women’s shelter, and she used to come to see me at Cambridge Springs; and my friend Sharon Webb is part of the Shepherd’s Heart church.

Knowing those two people connected me directly to that aspect of community work.

I’ve always been a caretaker by nature, and while incarcerated I always participated in the various community projects we did up there.  So it was natural for me to want to get involved with giving back to the community here; and I have two opportunities to do this; for the veterans and the homeless.

LGF: You told friends at Cambridge Springs that you wanted to buy a lottery ticket when you came out.  Have you bought one yet?

Tamie: Yes.  One. Just because I could. It was a wasted dollar. But if I had won $500, it wouldn’t have been.


Post Script: Tamie brought to our attention that the alloted time for meds after you are released is not enough. The prison will give you 30 days of your prescription. What they didn’t factor in is that it takes more than 30 days to sign up for health care, make a doctors appointment and get your prescription filled. Only if you hotfoot it to get signed up can you manage it just under the wire. 2 months would be sufficient. This is something to ask prison officials about and try to get this policy changed.

Updated Tips for filing Commutation Applications in PA

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Naomi Blount pictured here is the 2nd women in 30 years to receive a commutation of her life sentences. Here she is in Philadelphia shortly after being released. We are so happy for you Naomi!

We just updated our Commutation Kit with the new information from the Board of Pardon (BOP) website.  Essentially, it’s all the information in this post in an easy to print pdf. All the kits have a copy of the new form for appealing merit review or public hearing outcomes.

These tips are tailored for people serving death by incarceration

  • Ideally you would have a lawyer represent you when you get to the public hearing. If you do not have one, Applicants seeking representation should contact: Ross Miller, Interagency Liaison Bureau of Treatment Services Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050  Phone:  717-728-0377
  • When we are trying to find out if our people are up for merit review or what is going on with their application we contact John Johnson, Pardons Case Specialist Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050. Phone: 717-728-0386 johjohnson@pa.gov 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 Johnson the week before the scheduled merit review to obtain the most accurate info.
  • Supporters can now email letters of recommendation to the board of pardons. Contact as of July 2019 is 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.
  • People in prison can get a copy of the application by going through a counselor. 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.  Let’s Get Free can send person in prison an application on request.
  • 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. Both Naomi Blount and Farouq Wideman were denied at the merit review stage last winter, filed the reconsideration letter, were granted public hearings in May and are now in half way houses as of July 2019 (glory be!) They are part of the 11 people commuted this far under Governor Wolf.

Upcoming Schedule for Board of Pardon Hearings

Thursday, August 8, 2019 – Merit Review Session – Senate Hearing Room – 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 11, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 Thursday, September 12, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 Friday, September 13, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2019 – Merit Review Session – Senate Hearing Room – 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 18, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m.-1:00 Thursday, December 19, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. 1:00 p.m. Friday, December 20, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. and 1:00

NOTE:  The Public Hearings & Merit Review Sessions are NOT held at the Board of Pardons office.

  • The Public Hearings are held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • The Merit Review Sessions are held in the Senate Hearing Room, 8A East Wing, Capitol Building, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • Scheduled Merit Review Sessions and Public Hearings are subject to change as deemed necessary by the Board.

Tips for writing a commutation application during the Wolf administration Updated July 2019 By 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. Supplemental pages must be used-no “see attachment.” Click her for application

If you are not in prison and assisting an applicant what I do is download the application pdf.  Then on my Mac I click on tools, annotate, text box. (Magically the text box appears without having to do all of that clicking! I don’t know why that is happening these days but its great.)

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

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

Section 2: 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:  Less information is asked here. I type two lines of text in bold between two lines for the narrative in role of crime: “place, role and caught.” Use a supplemental page if needed.

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

Section 5: is now totally optional. No more checking boxes to address reasons for applying. However, the line spacing on the page doesn’t line up with any font size or spacing! It’s terrible. So what I do is print a page, cover the lines with a blank piece of paper then print.  I type the narrative in Pages (10-12 font size)  then print on the paper without lines. Looks great and easy to read. Print more than you need. Remember to hit return a few times to get the words below the header.

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: the one year required residency at a CCC and then after if you have one.  You can list your supporters and how they will help you.  Be creative!

Section 6: sign and date. Mail to Mechanicsburg on Section 2. Keep a copy for yourself!

Do write a cover letter. State you are applying for commutation, list a few good points about your rehabilitation efforts, home plan if you have one and thank the BOP for considering your application. 2 paragraphs in length.

Good luck!

Ellen

Letters of Support and Letters of Recommendation

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..

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,

XXXXXXXX

Reminder: Supporters can now email letters to the board of pardons. Contact as of July 2019 is Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov and then he will distribute the letter to the board the applicant’s packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.



This following is all from the BOP website: Filing Of An Application:

When an application is received at the Board of Pardons office and is found to be complete and accurate, it is considered “filed.” A letter will be sent to confirm the filing of the application. If incomplete, it will not be considered filed until all requirements have been fulfilled.

Filing an application to commute a Death sentence to Life imprisonment entails special procedures. The presentation may last thirty minutes, and every filed capital application is granted a public hearing. A capital applicant must submit every pertinent piece of material at least ten days prior to the date of hearing. 

Board of Pardons Process Flowcharts for public and incarcerated cases are now available.

Incarcerated Process Flow Chart_Page_1

Incarcerated Process Flow Chart_Page_2



Procedure:

After an application has been filed, a copy of the application is sent to the following interested parties:

Board of Probation and Parole – Staff from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole conduct investigations for the Board of Pardons. They will report all criminal history and driving violations found.  They will also conduct a telephone interview or an in-person interview in your home to provide our Board with your present personal status.

The following is a list of items you will need to gather in advance of the meeting with the investigating staff:

  • Residence: rental agreement, mortgage statements, rent receipts, etc. as applicable;
  • Marital Status and Family Composition: marriage decrees, divorce decrees, birth and or death certificates, etc. as applicable;
  • Employment: pay stubs, W2’s, evidence of income to include alimony, unemployment, VA benefits, etc. as applicable;
  • Resources: investment statements, life insurance policies, checking and savings account statements, total family income, value of all property to include vehicles, vacation property, rental property; etc. as applicable;
  • Liabilities and Indebtedness: loan statements, mortgage statements, installment (credit card) statements, delinquency on any utilities, etc. as applicable;
  • Membership in Organizations and/or other Civic Organizations: membership cards for any volunteer, civic, church related organizations, etc. as applicable;
  • Religious interests: interests and activities of the Applicant, as applicable;
  • Mobility and Travel: addresses and dates of residences for the past ten years;
  • Employment History: record of jobs held for the past ten years as shown by W2’s, pay stubs, etc. as applicable;
  • Educational History: history of education as shown by diplomas, certificates, transcripts, etc. as applicable;
  • Military Service: branch of service, dates of entry and discharge, type of discharge, rank attained as shown by a DD-214; as applicable;
  • Community Reputation and Reference: names and contact information of at least 3-5 references to be contacted by the investigating Agent, or letters of support.

If you do not reside in Pennsylvania, parole staff’s standard procedure is to send you a worksheet to complete followed up by a telephone interview to confirm the information contained in the worksheet.

You should expect a delay from the time your application is filed until you are interviewed.  This will ensure that the information regarding your present personal status is current and accurate when it is reviewed by the Board.

Department of Corrections – This agency is responsible for preparing a report for incarcerated individuals only.

District Attorney/President Judge – The District Attorney and President Judge in the county where the crime(s) occurred are given a chance to provide an opinion on the merits of every application. In cases involving more than one jurisdiction, a copy of the application will also go to the appropriate District Attorney and President Judge in that county.

Once all of the necessary reports have been received, the Board Secretary and staff will send to each Board Member in advance an applicant’s file to be reviewed for a hearing. The Board will grant a hearing if two (2) of the five Board members approve. Hearings for lifers or prisoners serving time for crimes of violence may only be granted upon approval of three (3) Board members. Attempted crimes of violence are included in this and offenses committed while in visible possession of a firearm, for which sentencing was imposed, will also require a three (3) member vote. If the required number of votes are not obtained, the process has ended and the applicant will not receive a pardon/commutation.

If a hearing is granted, the following individuals/agencies will be notified of the time and place of the hearing:

  • Applicant/Representative
  • Board of Probation and Parole
  • Department of Corrections (If incarcerated)
  • District Attorney, President Judge
  • Victim(s) or Victim(s) Next of Kin
  • Newspaper in the county where an applicant committed the crime(s) for which he/she is seeking clemency. At least one week prior to the public hearing, notice must be published stating the applicant’s name, the crimes(s) with respect to which the applicant has applied for clemency, clemency type, the institution, if any, in which the applicant is confined and the time and place of the hearing at which the application will be heard. Newspaper publication is required for every application to be heard by the Board.

A calendar is prepared, listing each application to be heard at the specified public session. It is distributed to all interested parties in advance of the public session.


The Hearing:

Hearings are held in the Supreme Court Courtroom in Harrisburg. The Board meets on a regular basis, as determined by the Board. On the scheduled day, the Board convenes at 9:00 A.M. for morning sessions or 1:00 P.M. for afternoon sessions. The Board’s secretary will call the session to order and the Board’s chairman will present opening remarks. Following the opening remarks, the first case, as listed on the calendar, is called to present their case. No more than fifteen minutes is allowed for each applicant’s presentation. Each case is called in consecutive order with each informal presentation adhering to the following format:

  • Applicant’s presentation
  • Supportive speakers’ presentation
  • Victim’s and/or victim’s next of kin’s presentation or anyone who would like to speak in opposition of the application.

Visit the Public Hearing Presentation page for more information on preparing for your presentation to the Board.

The Results:

Following the public hearing session, the Board meets in Executive Session. The Board reconvenes to vote in public. If a majority of the Board vote in favor of an application, the Board recommends favorable action to the Governor. If less than a majority of the Board vote in favor, the result is a denial by the Board and the application is not forwarded to the Governor. Life or Death sentence cases require a unanimous vote by the Board to be recommended to the Governor. The Governor, at his discretion, may approve or disapprove any favorable recommendation submitted by the Board. When the Secretary of the Board has received the Governor’s action, all interested parties will be notified of the decision.

Post Result Actions:

Reconsideration – A request for reconsideration of any decision may be made to the Board. The applicant must show a change in circumstances since the application was filed, or other compelling reasons, sufficient to justify reconsideration. Dissatisfaction with the Board’s decision is not grounds to request reconsideration.

Effective Monday, June 3, 2019, a formal request for reconsideration must be accompanied by a Reconsideration Request Form, which is prescribed by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons (BOP).  From the effective date and anytime thereafter, any request that does not include a Reconsideration Request Form will be automatically rejected by the BOP.

Download Reconsideration Request Form

Reapplication – An application may not be filed before the expiration of 12 months from a final adverse decision on any prior application. If an application receives two consecutive adverse decisions, an application may not be filed before the expiration of 24 months from the last adverse decision.

tyronewertzspeaking
Press conference at Avis Lee’s merit review hearing in 2014. She received unanimous denial. She is awaiting decision on her 6th attempt at commutation. We expect the merit review to take place in November. Tyrone Wertz, commuted lifer is speaking, surrounded by many supporters.

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