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Governor's pardon project off to slow start, recipients grateful for reprieve

Mike DeWine
Posted at 8:43 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 23:10:00-05

CLEVELAND — A passion project from Governor Mike DeWine is off to a slow start. On Friday afternoon, the Governor joined a virtual meeting for an update on his Expedited Pardon Project.

The initiative started in 2019.

The screen wasn't much to look at, but the message behind the meeting was a big deal for a lot of people in Ohio.

"One of the things that only a governor can do is, is issue pardons," DeWine said at the beginning of his conference. "And it's a responsibility that I take very, very seriously."

The Republican state leader said he was getting pardon request letters from all over the state. He said many of them had past convictions that were impacting their futures.

So far, in the first year of the project, only nine pardons have been given out.

LaSalle Harris is one of the nine recipients.

"I just thought I was going to just die, like, in my addiction and all," Harris said about her outlook on life during her decades long battle with drug addiction. "And in the criminal activities because I know that that's where it leads -- to death."

During her addiction, she went in and out of Ohio's prison system.

"I've been there five times, don't want to go back ever, ever again," she said.

Harris could be considered a success story. She's been sober since 2007, earned a bachelor's degree and wants to go back for her master's degree in criminal justice.

But the 23 past convictions were holding her back. Except now, the gubernatorial pardon has erased her record.

"It's just going to give me more hope to be more useful in the community," she said.

Harris got started on her pardon in February of 2020 with help from professors and students at the University of Akron Law School. Harris thought the process for a pardon would take years. Instead, she had a hearing over the summer and on Dec. 24 her pardon letter arrived.

"I was so excited. I ripped it," she said. Harris added some tape to the top corner of her letter.

As grateful as she is, Harris knows not everyone on her panel was ready to grant the pardon. One panelist was unsure.

"He didn't want to reward somebody for making bad choices, but I want to say that everybody makes bad choices," she said.

There are requirements for a pardon through this program:

  • People convicted of violent felonies like murder, sex crimes with a minor or kidnapping are not eligible for a pardon under this process.
  • Applicants must have the 10 most recent years free from convictions and they must show post-conviction employment.

All which Harris meets.

In the virtual meeting on Friday, DeWine lamented the slow start to the program.

"I am sure that there are thousands of Ohioans who, if we had the facts in front of us and we knew what they have done since they committed the crime and since they got that felony, that we would look at that and say, 'well, that person certainly should be given a pardon.'"

In the first year, there were 74 applicants to the program and 32 were accepted into the process.