Sangamon County

January 19, 1876 - PARDONED CRIMINALS
Submitted by Nancy Piper

Something Concerning the Exercise of Executive Clemency in Illinois.
A List of Pardons Issued to Prisoners Under Sentence for Manslaughter and Murder.
Our Penitentiary System Today as Compared with That of Years Ago.
Special Correspondence of the Inter-Ocean Springfield, Illinois Jan. 17, 1876.

    The Executive clemency toward prisoners in the Penitentiary having been the subject of some remarks In various papers, an Inter-Ocean representative has examined the papers upon which pardons have been granted during the past year, and which are on file in the office of the Secretary of State. In the direction of prison reform, as regards both the internal economy of the institution and the physical, mental, and moral treatment and welfare of the prisoners, the conduct of the present administration during the three years past is deserving of the highest commendation. If there is any one thing in the State government of which the people of Illinois have reason to be justly proud, it is the Penitentiary system which has obtained in this State. During Governor Palmer's administration a very creditable step in advance was taken on the part of the Executive in giving his frequent personal attention to the condition of individual prisoners, and to relieving the prison life (in cases which often occur) of its extreme hardship and injustice.

    The Policy of Governor Palmer, in this regard, his been more fully carried out and greater personal attention given by Governor Beveridge.    He has been able to do this more efficiently than his predecessor, by reason of the more complete system which is maintained in  the institution and which allows of a more critical and careful consideration of individual cases. He has given to the examation of each case that deliberation and care which a conscientious Executive should always find it his duty to exercise. Much has been said in regard In the pardon of persons imprisoned for murder and manslaughter.

    In the Chicago Tribune several  articles  have appeared in criticism of the pardons, but no one of these statements has ever given the grounds on which such pardons are granted. An examination of the papers in each of the murder and manslaughter cases shows as follows, commencing with those last issued:

     Daniel O'Brien; May 1867; murder; Sangamon County; life; pardoned Dec. 15 1874; served 71/2 years. The physician of the prison certifies that O'Brien is suffering from chronic inflammation and indurations of the liver, and his constitution is generally broken down; that he is unable to do any work. The Warden certifies that the officers of the prison deem his punishment undeserved and states that during his service he had earned over $300.00 by overwork.

  The above review is but a very brief resume, and gives but a slight idea of mass of evidence upon which the pardons were granted. The murder and manslaughter cases only are referred to here, because time and space are too limited to consider those for minor offences. But an exemption shows that great care and inquiry as well as personal investigation have been given by the Governor to almost every case. There may be, and doubtless are, instances among these where the error of the Executive has been that of leaning strongly to the side of mercy. But in the great majority, in fact, substantially all, leaving the questions of mercy and sympathy out of the case simple justice has demanded the course pursued. Hundreds of cases exist where the populace and the juries are temporarily and greatly excited and incensed against the prisoners, and sentences are fixed at a limit altogether unreasonable. There are cases where for substantially; the same offense, one jury has fixed a two year sentence, and another a fifteen year sentence.

One thing must be remembered, that the theory of the Illinois  Penitentiary system is not, simply revenge against erring and criminal humanity, but by the "good time" law, and by the pardoning and  commuting power, the system is intended to punish and at the same time teach respect to law by firm but humane regulations. Where a convict earns, by good conduct and hard work for years the diminution of his sentence, he ought to enjoy the benefits of a pardon.

It is earnestly hoped that Governor Beveridge will continue giving the same personal attention and care to the matter as he has done, and that the Penitentiary will continue to receive the encomiums of the people of the State. It must be remembered that although the number of pardons seems large, yet they are only a very small proportion of the nearly 3,000 who have been in prison during the time. Times have changed. The terrible punishments in the early history of prison life in Illinois in the old Alton prison, have passed, never to be revived, and an era of  decency and humanity have succeeded.  God grant it may long continue.

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