Nebraska established a State Board of Pardons decades ago to signal the state’s support for helping individuals stay on the right path after ending their criminal sentence. A state pardon doesn’t mean the person was innocent. It means the state is encouraging the individual to continue responsible behavior after achieving a clean slate, post-incarceration.

The Pardons Board has badly slipped behind schedule in meeting regularly, however, and a major backlog of pardon applications has piled up.

The board, which consists of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, held only 13 hearings over the past three fiscal years — dramatically short of the 345 hearings it held during the three years previous to that, The World-Herald’s Paul Hammel reports. The board used to meet six to eight times a year for multiple hearings. Last year, it met only twice.

The board isn’t obliged to pardon any individual. Its members judge cases on their specific merits and, if the board chooses, it can reject all pardon requests. But the board does need to demonstrate fairness and consistency by holding to a responsible meeting schedule.

A changeover in administrative staff is cited as a key factor in the slowdown. In any case, the board needs to pick up the pace to address the case backlog.

It turns out that the Pardons Board is marking its centennial this year and that the board was created not through a state statute but is part of the Nebraska Constitution itself. In 1920, Nebraskans approved a constitutional amendment that created the board and designated its membership.

Pardons are often sought for drug crimes committed when young or for drunken driving offenses, and the board can restore gun and hunting rights, Hammel reports.

The board needs to start whittling down the backlog and give people the opportunity to request pardons as part of making a fresh start.

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