For years, Illinois has had a long backlog of people seeking clemency from the governor. Being granted clemency allows the formerly incarcerated to return to court and have their record expunged, which in turn helps get their lives back on track.
According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Bruce Rauner has all but eliminated the backlog by denying about 97 percent of clemency requests. The Tribune reported Rauner granted only 79 pardons out of the 2,333 clemency requests he has decided, the majority of which were left over from past administrations.
Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia spoke with Rauner about how clearing the clemency backlog fits into his overall goals for the state’s criminal justice system. Rauner also discusses the long-standing budget crisis in Illinois and what his plans are as a temporary budget, known as a stopgap, expires at the end of the month.
You have rejected clemency to a lot more people than you’ve granted it. So what are the factors your administration used to determine who should qualify for clemency?
In the end, it’s all about treating people fairly and with respect while keeping our communities and the residents of Illinois safer.
We consider the nature of the crime committed, how much time has elapsed since the crime committed, has there been any other criminal behavior by the individual involved, then very importantly, has the individual shown that they accept responsibility for the behavior and the mistakes they’ve made? Do they express remorse and regret, and do they truly hold themselves accountable? And have they proven that they want to try and make themselves better and make their communities better and safer? Have they gone on to serve in the military? Have they done community service and volunteer work? Have they done things that show they’re really trying to make themselves better people and make their communities better places to live and work for everyone?
They need to have showed that in order to have clemency considered by us. They have to show a real need for clemency. It can’t just be a request; there has to be an underlying real need to help them get on and leave very productive lives. That has to be there as well.
What kind of needs would someone express to receive clemency?
Generally it’s the ability to get a decent job or pursue a particular career that the person is highly qualified to pursue. Or maybe it’s even to move because of family needs or health issues and they can’t relocate because of a particular issue in their criminal record.
Obviously we will consider all these. But in the end, pardons or expungements will only be granted where there’s the need but also those other factors -- where they’ve really accepted responsibility, they’ve shown they’ve made themselves better people, they’ve given back in the community and really done wonderful things.
Regarding the budget impasse, if there continues to be no budget, won’t the safety net from social services start to disappear?
The No. 1 challenge we face in Illinois is lack of economic opportunity. That causes criminal behavior. And when Illinois is not competitive, when we are ranked among the worst states for regulation and red tape and restrictions on employers, it pushed job creators out of the state. And when we have the highest property taxes in America, it pushes working families out and the job creators out. And when we have an expensive government bureaucracy, that consumes taxpayers hard-earned money into the bureaucracy rather than letting that money go into our schools with our teachers and our students in the classroom.
Those are the failures of our current system that cause lack of opportunity and contribute to our crime problem. And those issues are exactly the ones we’re trying to change.
Can’t outlying issues be set aside by both sides of the aisle until a balanced budget is passed?
If all we do to balance a budget is to cut a few things small and then raise taxes significantly, that will never balance our budget long-term. This is the core issue that folks need to understand. We haven’t had balanced budgets because our economic growth rate is so slow and has been for decades, and our increase in government spending has been so high. That always causes deficits, by definition.
And if all we do is just raise the tax rate to cover that every few years -- that’s what we’ve been doing for 35 years in Illinois -- and if we continue down that path we’ll never have a better future for the people of Illinois. We need to increase the economic growth rate with more high-paying jobs by becoming more competitive, and we need to decrease the growth in government spending by getting our structure reforms -- government consolidation and pension reform et cetera that we’re fighting for. That’s what will create long term balanced budgets for the people of Illinois and that’s what we really need.
What happens Dec. 31 if there’s no new stopgap budget?
What we’ve got to focus -- and this is the reason I’ve asked to meet every day [with House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton] -- we’ve got to focus on getting a balanced budget with reforms so we can increase our economic growth with more jobs and bring down the cost of our government bureaucracy.
We’ve got to do this. The good news is the answers are very clear. We can do it. We’ve just got to get the political will power.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the 'Play' button above to listen to the entire interview.