Stack’s informative presentation was part of the program, Pathways to Pardons, an initiative with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
The stigma associated with a criminal conviction can be devastating.
Often a criminal record stands in the way of an ex-offender getting a job. Many employment applications still feature a box for an applicant with a prior conviction to check.
Stack is chairman of the state Board of Pardons and spoke to about 50 ex-offenders, prison staffers and volunteers, and students. The lieutenant governor said that there is no race, color, creed or background that is safe from challenges.
"Pennsylvania has a legacy of being tough on crime,” Stack said. “We’ve all come to find out we’ve been stupid on crime. We believe in second chances. Nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes.”
Stack said he wants ex-offenders to succeed.
“We’re punishing them over and over for the same crime,” he said. “We want to put that in the rear-view mirror.”
Sen. Andy Dinniman also spoke.
“We give a second chance if you’ve rehabilitated yourself,” Dinniman told the audience. “Welcome back into the community. We welcome your contributions.
The number of pardons granted has increased under Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, according to Dinniman.
The West Chester Democrat said that 70 percent of offenders serve time for drug-related offences.
He listed three reasons the state has taken a “relook” at substance abuse sentences.
The senator said that it’s too expensive to keep prisoners behind bars; the state is overwhelmed by opioids; and prison is not the answer to dealing with addiction.
Stack said applicants must show the parole board that they’ve turned their lives around and are living up to their mistakes.
Dr. Ken Martz is a psychologist with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
Ex-offenders should be giving back as good citizens, he said.
“Tonight is not about losses, it’s a journey of hope,” Martz said. “No one grew up and said I want to be addicted to heroin and live under a bridge. Recovery is not just a possibility, it is an expectation.”
Matt Franchak discussed rights and privileges that might be restored with a pardon and expungement, or erasing of a conviction.
Someone may recover the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, own and carry a firearm, serve in the military, travel internationally and seek once forbidden jobs.
The five member state Board of Pardons must favorably recommend granting a pardon, with the governor making the final call.
The review process has been streamlined, but it still takes approximately three years from the time an application is filed to be granted a review hearing at the state Capitol. The governor usually makes a decision after a positive board vote within three months.
Franchak said the average duration, or sweet spot, for earning a pardon is 10 years without another conviction.
“You’ve got to take ownership and (understand) how it impacted other people,” he said.
A pardon relieves an individual of consequences resulting from a conviction of a crime and constitutes total forgiveness, according to the state Board of Pardons Guide distributed at the presentation.
Receiving a pardon from the governor is the best way to clearing a criminal record, along with expungement, which also gives an offender the opportunity to avoid having to “check the box” on employment applications.
To expunge, an applicant must address the court where the conviction occurred.
An audience member who preferred to not be named, said that a conviction can hurt an ex-offender’s job prospects.
“I feel hope that the state is taking some steps to help people who have made a mistake and are incarcerated so they can re-enter society as a productive citizen,” she said.
Steve Burk, with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said that 16,000 staffers work at 25 state correctional institutions, along with 14 community centers. The average maximum sentence is 16 years and the average minimum is seven.
The average age of an inmate is 38. With 47,000 state inmates, 35,700 suffer from substance abuse.