Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alaska: A Case for Clemency

Jill Burke at the Alaska Dispatch has a great piece on 35-year old Brian Petrilla, who became a convicted bank robber at the age of 17. Petrilla says there is "no excuse" for what he did. He served his time, went to college, married and had children. Now he serves as a juvenile probation officer on the staff of the very same institution where he was incarcerated! But, now, there is just one thing the "reformed armed robber" wants: forgiveness, from the Governor.

Burke says the case "raises questions about the goals of Alaska’s justice system" and "reveals a deficiency in the state’s clemency policies." Petrilla's story is one of a rehabilitated violent offender who, years later, returned to the same youth facility where he served his sentence. This time he entered as a staff member. But ...
Despite his achievements and the fact that his criminal past doesn’t appear in background checks (juvenile records are confidential), Petrilla has encountered employment obstacles. He once hoped he might become a border guard, but was turned down when, during the application process, he was required to disclose his full criminal history. He could choose to lie but doesn’t, he said. His wife would like to run a home day care but can’t because of Petrilla’s past.

In 2007, Alaska expanded its definition of “barrier crimes” -- crimes which bar a person from professions requiring state licensure or certification --to include violent crimes committed by juveniles. The same law will prevent Petrilla from advancing within the Department of Health and Social Services, should he choose to do so. Because of this, Petrilla asks “if the system is meant to rehabilitate, why not complete it?”
Petrilla was rejected by the State's parole board in 2009. He has recently approached the governor, only to be referred back to the board. The prosecutor and defense attorneys in his case recommend clemency. His clemency application says:
“I am no longer the 17-year-old juvenile delinquent adjudicated on felony charges some 18 years ago. I am clearly a responsible, productive and contributing member of our community ... Please forgive me for my criminal acts, not because they were insignificant but because I have done the work you asked me to do and deeply desire to be forgiven.”
See this full, interesting story here.

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