(Editorial) Sen. Kissel Pushes to Keep Pardons Public

May 13, 2013

Keep pardons public
Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Britain Herald editorial

We were surprised to learn that a bill now before the state Senate would allow the state pardons board to operate and even meet in secret.

The Journal Inquirer is reporting that the bill would exempt pardon applications and other records before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles from the state’s freedom-of-information law. The rationale is the change would bring the pardon process in line with state laws meant to protect those who are found not guilty of crimes, as well as those who are convicted and then pardoned. State law requires police and court records to be erased if the person is pardoned. This proposal would seal even the application for a pardon.

Under the bill before the Senate, all documents concerning pardons would be private unless they’re released by the board, requested by the person they’re about or ordered released by a court.

That would mean that public information from a pardon would be little more than the name of the person pardoned and the vote, said Mary Schwind, associate general counsel at the Freedom of Information Commission. The change also could be used to move the pardon board’s meetings entirely behind closed doors. That’s because the state’s right-to-know law allows an agency to meet in executive session if an open meeting would result in the release of information that isn’t public.
Some who oppose the bill say the change would eliminate nearly all public oversight of the parole process.

“It’s very important for the public to know who is being granted pardons and what are the grounds for the granting of those pardons,” Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, the top-ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee, said Friday.

Kissel added that hiding all pardon files isn’t the same as erasing the arrest record of a person who never was convicted.

“We’re talking about someone … guilty of a crime against society and individuals,” he said.

As we see it, this bill is an assault on open government. The pardons process should be continually scrutinized, so the public can see when a pardon is granted out of compassion, as a result of demonstrations of remorse or recompense, the discovery of new evidence — or when it might occur because the person is politically connected. This state has not been immune to high-level corruption, so the public deserves to know when those who have been convicted of a crime can put it behind them at the stroke of a pen.

This knowledge allows us to understand not only the actions of the man or woman being pardoned, but also of those doing the pardoning. Freedom of information means all information, not just some, and it should illuminate not just those seeking pardons but those granting them.

Keeping pardon records public is important so officials can review the performance of police, lawyers, and the courts, Democrat Rep. Bob Godfrey of Danbury told the Journal Inquirer. “All of that needs to be public record, because the courts system, the whole justice system, needs to be open to public scrutiny.”