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Delaware pardons up over 400% during Obama years

Delaware Public Media

The Washington Post recently reported that the Obama administration has pardoned 148 people and granted a historic 1,176 commutations for federal prisoners.

The number of state-level pardons in the First State has also gone up in recent years.
While federal pardons are very difficult to receive, even a state pardon – from the Governor of the state where a crime is committed – can be a lengthy and difficult process.

To apply for a pardon in Delaware, at least three years must have passed since any involvement in the criminal justice system – including arrest, incarceration, probation and parole.

In 2008, there were only 105 pardons granted by Delaware Governor Jack Markell. That number was nearly doubled in 2013 to 207.  

By 2015, the number doubled again to 472. According to the state's board of pardons, there have been 402 in 2016 so far this year.


Delaware Board of Pardons assistant Judy Smith says the increase stems from growing efforts to help those leaving prison find work.


“There’s a lot of need because you can’t get a job without a pardon and I think that’s what’s driving a lot of that," Smith said.

She said there's been a realization that employment is a key factor in reducing recidivism.

“Just the fact that employers are requiring full background checks," Smith said. "In the past they used to go back only a few years, but now they go back through their whole record since 9/11. And you need a background check to work at McDonald’s.”


A study by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council of prisoners released in 2008 and 2009 found that three years after release in both years, 75% were re-arrested for a serious offense.


Obama plans to issue more commutations before he leaves office, part of a clemency initiative he formed with attorney general Eric Holder two years ago.


Delaware’s commutation numbers haven’t risen very much – with only 1 in 2008, 10 in 2011, and 4 so far in 2016.





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