* Kim Bellware at the Washington Post…
As a newly minted member of the Illinois General Assembly in 2007, Rep. La Shawn Ford of Chicago remembers his first bill: a proposal to eliminate from state job applications the question asking if someone had ever been convicted of a nonviolent crime. Then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D) vetoed it.
The veto was one of the many choices Blagojevich’s critics now cite as part of his dismal track record on criminal-justice reform while governor, an office from which he was later impeached and removed and ultimately convicted of leveraging for financial gain in a 2009 political corruption trial that led to his 14-year prison sentence. Blagojevich’s history on criminal justice is especially striking now that he’s received the mercy he rarely showed others as the state’s top executive — a commutation Tuesday from President Trump. […]
According to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, Blagojevich took action on fewer than 25 percent of clemency petitions filed while he was governor, NBC Chicago reported in 2016 — 13 years after the backlog began. A group of Illinoisans with felony records went as far as suing Blagojevich over his inaction on clemency requests. […]
“There were ‘actual innocence’ petitions that some of our clients needed to get compensation for all the years they wrongfully spent in prison, and even those were stalled,” Drizin said. It got so bad that state lawmakers, still during Blagojevich’s tenure, created a workaround process for granting the ultimate forms of expungement because the governor’s office was so ineffective.
* Jennifer Soble, the executive director of the Illinois Prison Project…
Illinois has done away with many of the mechanisms that other states rely on to make sure that people who can be safely returned to the community do not languish in prison.
Our state abolished parole in 1978. Eleven years later, Illinois made it extraordinarily difficult, and often impossible, for people in prison to get their sentences reduced through good behavior.
Illinois has no mechanism for releasing the terminally ill or the medically incapacitated. Our state has rendered rehabilitation, personal growth and mercy irrelevant.
In this landscape of despair, executive commutation of a sentence has remained a glimmering hope for thousands upon thousands of people who simply should not be in prison.
We are talking about people like Basil Powell, a 69-year-old man who has served more than 36 years of a natural life sentence for his role as the getaway driver in gas station robberies in which no one was hurt. He was sentenced to die in prison even though he was unarmed during the robberies, even though his armed codefendant went home after six years, and even though he has a wife, a daughter and four grandchildren at home.
Blagojevich, who yesterday was the beneficiary of executive grace, ignored the petition of Basil Powell, just as he ignored thousands upon thousands of other equally reasonable and compelling requests for relief.
* Meanwhile, he has to find a job…
Trump’s order specifically noted the president was not commuting the two-year period of supervised release imposed by U.S. Judge James Zagel. Under the conditions, Blagojevich has to meet with probation regularly, cannot leave the jurisdiction without permission and must seek employment.
If he has trouble finding a job, Blagojevich must do at least 20 hours a week of community service until he finds one, with a maximum 200 hours served.