Maura Healey Will Consider Race, Gender, and ‘Sexual Identity’ When Granting Pardons In Massachusetts, Her Office Announces

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Under Governor Maura Healey’s administration, race, gender, and sexual identity will be considered when issuing pardons and commutations, the governor’s office announced this week.

The administration says that its new clemency guidelines show a commitment to fairness and equity in the criminal justice system.

“For the first time in state history, the clemency guidelines explicitly outline the ways in which the Governor will use executive clemency to address unfairness and systemic bias in the criminal justice system,” says the press release. “When evaluating clemency petitions, Governor Healey will consider factors such as the petitioner’s age at the time of the offense, health, post-offense behavior, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity, as well as whether they are a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence, or human trafficking.”

Healey reiterated the idea that considering one’s identity when granting clemency makes the process more fair.

“Clemency is an important executive tool that can be used to soften the harsher edges of our criminal justice system,” Healey said in the written statement Tuesday, October 31. “I am proud to release these new clemency guidelines that will center fairness and equity by taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each individual petitioner and the role of systemic biases. We are also committed to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard every step of the way. Together with the strong partnership of the Advisory Board of Pardons and Governor’s Council, we can make Massachusetts safer, stronger, and fairer for everyone.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll is quoted as saying the guidelines help provide “an equity lens.”

“Executive clemency has the power to not only make a positive difference in the lives of individual petitioners, but also to make our state fairer and more equitable,” Driscoll said in the press release. “The Governor has said from day one that our administration is going to apply an equity lens to everything we do, and we are seeing the results – an administration-wide equity assessment, new and diverse councils and commissions, eleven pardons and now these updated guidelines.”

The governor can grant executive clemency to people when approved by the Governor’s Council. 

There are two types of clemency she can grant:  pardons and commutations.

“A pardon has the effect of treating the petitioner as if the offense had never been committed. A commutation of a sentence has the effect of releasing a petitioner from an ongoing sentence of incarceration,” the governor’s office’s press release states.

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell praised the Healey administration’s approach.

“I applaud the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s efforts to use the power of clemency to directly address the unfairness and bias that exist in this system, and to help foster a more compassionate and equitable approach,” Campbell said in the written statement from the governor’s office.

Patricia Garin, co-director of the Northeastern University School of Law Prisoners’ Rights Clinic, said the decision will help individuals who identify as homosexual or transgender.

“I am very impressed and encouraged by Governor Healey’s Clemency Guidelines,” Garin said, according to the governor’s office’s press release. “They will become a reliable way to address unfairness and miscarriages of justice in our criminal legal system. Her strong statements that she will take the persistence of racial disparities and their root causes into account when deciding clemency requests, along with her pledge to consider the unequal treatment often affecting migrants, ethnic and cultural minorities, those who are LGBTQ+, poor, women, migrants, and the disabled, show a sincere commitment to fairness and equity, while addressing public safety. It appears that we may finally have a governor who has the courage to get smart on crime.”


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