A Discussion Regarding Pardons and Commutations Made by California Governors Since 1943

As discussed in a previous blog post, former Governor Jerry Brown granted 143 pardons and 131 commutations in 2018. According to an article posted in the San Francisco Chronicle, former Governor Jerry Brown has granted far more pardons than any other governor in modern California history.[1]

When Brown was originally in office from 1975-1983, he pardoned 404 convicted criminals and commuted the sentence of one prisoner. However, in his most recent term from 2011-2018, he granted 1,189 pardons and commuted the sentences for 152 individuals. Brown attributes this increasing number of pardons and commutations granted in his latest term to the increases in the prison population he has seen since his first term as governor based on tough-on-crime laws that have imposed fixed-term sentences, mandatory prison time for certain crimes and long sentences for repeat offenders, causing a significant increase in inmates serving time in California’s prison system.

As a comparison, recent California governors serving terms prior to Brown granted very few pardons and commutations. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger served as California governor from 2003 to 2011 and only granted 15 pardons and 10 commutations during that time. Former Governor Gray Davis did not grant any pardons or commutations during his term from 1999 to 2003.

California’s governors serving terms from 1943 to 1991 granted far more pardons and commutations than the governors we have seen in recent decades and it remains unknown whether current Governor Gavin Newsom will continue in Brown’s footsteps or take a more conservative approach in exercising his power to grant commutations and pardons.


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[1] For a link to the full article visit: https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Gov-Jerry-Brown-sets-record-for-pardons-13487741.php