Weighing Fetterman initiative

It is obvious why many people might strongly oppose Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s initiative aimed at reforming the sentence-commutations process in Pennsylvania — at least to the degree he has proposed.

Those people’s opinion is no doubt rooted in the premise that any individual, having participated in a homicide, deserves to serve the full punishment meted out by a judge or jury.

That attitude is not unreasonable.

However, much of what the lieutenant governor is seeking to do — or already has put in motion — doesn’t necessarily deserve to be construed as out of order. For example, expediting review of cases of more than 700 lifers who are age 65 or older, which already is underway, does not automatically represent bad judgment.

There probably is only minimal risk for future criminal activity by those individuals. In addition, the state — meaning, the taxpayers — will be relieved of the significant financial burdens tied to their incarceration and care.

The bigger picture of what Fetterman wants to do centers on some 1,200 inmates who are serving mandatory life sentences without parole for second-degree murder.

As an article in the Nov. 30 Mirror reported, in Pennsylvania, a person can be charged with second-degree murder if someone died during commission of a crime, even if the accomplice wasn’t actually present at the crime scene.

According to Fetterman, there have been instances in which an accomplice sentenced to life in prison for second-degree homicide in this state has ended up serving more time than the person who actually pulled the trigger or wielded some other murder weapon.

No matter what specific thoughts individuals might be harboring regarding what Fetterman is seeking to do, the lieutenant governor shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to remove bottlenecks that currently exist within the commutations process — bottlenecks that he has described as “catastrophic.”

He has said that, in some instances, those bottlenecks have prevented inmate applications for pardons from being considered by the state Board of Pardons, of which Fetterman is chairman.

Such purported bottlenecks should not exist.

Fetterman says he supports relaxing the vote on behalf of a commutation to 4-1 from 5-0. That intention should be the subject of considerable debate, going forward, before any chance of implementation.

After such votes, cases go to the governor for concurrence.

Early prison release always is a touchy subject. It probably was made more so by the recent terrorist-related incident in Britain, where a man who reportedly gained an early release from prison stabbed two people to death and injured several others.

Fetterman has characterized commutations reform as one of the great causes of his life, and it always is refreshing when an official not only “talks the talk” about an objective he or she strongly supports but follows up by doggedly working to justify and achieve it.

Expect to hear voices from both sides of the commutations issue in the weeks ahead.

However, if Fetterman ensures that the total of what he envisions progresses as he perceives it should, it is plausible to think that more positives than negatives will be the result.


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