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Missouri Governor Grants Pardons at Unprecedented Rate Since WWII

Distraught by a romantic breakup, 16-year-old Kenny Batson vented his hurt by stomping out the windshields of cars on a for-sale lot. He landed in juvenile detention, but that was only the beginning of his trouble. Over the ensuing years, Batson stole cigarettes, booze and cars for drunken joyrides while bouncing in and out of prison and substance abuse treatment programs. At age 20, he beat a man nearly to death, stopping only when friends pulled him away. Now 50, Batson is a Christian pastor, a reformed man who has been pardoned for his crimes.

The governor who pardoned him knows a bit about transformations. For a dozen years as a rural sheriff, Mike Parson was the face of justice, the man ultimately responsible for catching and locking up local lawbreakers. Now governor, Parson also has become the face of mercy by pardoning more than 600 people in the past three years, more than any Missouri governor since the 1940s.

“I still believe in law and order. I believe criminals need to be treated as such, and they’ve got accountability,” Parson said in an interview with The Associated Press. But “it doesn’t mean they’re a criminal all their life,” Parson added. “I think you’ve got to be able to look at it.”

Parson‘s pardoning pace in Republican-heavy Missouri coincides with a national movement to restore citizens’ rights and reputations after they have served criminal sentences. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, recently set a new state record for the number of pardons. Minnesota also could be in store for more pardons after the Legislature this year revamped the state’s clemency process to allow for pardons without unanimous votes by a three-person board composed of the governor, attorney general and chief justice. The governor still must be one of the two votes. At the federal level, President Joe Biden last year pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession and encouraged governors to do the same. The movement marks a step back from the tough-on-crime politics of the late 20th century and a return to an earlier American era when pardons and commutations were much more common.

Though the process varies, every state allows some form of clemency. Commutations shorten the length of sentences. Pardons function like official forgiveness for crimes, restoring rights such as the ability to own firearms and clearing hurdles for employment.

For Batson, the pardon helped restore a sense of self-worth by obliterating the felon label. The official document arrived in a manilla envelope more than five years after his wife put together a thick packet of recommendation letters for his clemency application. “I literally cried and screamed when I got it. It was amazing,” Batson said.

In Missouri, clemency requests are first screened by the Board of Probation and Parole, which makes confidential recommendations to the governor. There is no deadline for the governor to make a decision. Parson inherited nearly 3,700 clemency applications when he was suddenly elevated from lieutenant governor following the resignation of scandal-plagued GOP Gov. Eric Greitens in June 2018. Some of those cases, including Batson’s, dated to the tenure of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who served from 2009-2017. Parson‘s staff began systematically tackling the backlog in December 2020, even as more requests poured in. They set a goal of evaluating around 100 cases each month, weighing applicants’ work and education history, community involvement, character references and contrition for their crimes. The types of crimes, how young offenders were and how much time had passed also came into play as Parson made his decisions. …

**Focus keyword: Missouri Governor Pardons**

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