Clemency Options in Illinois: An Overview

Clemency Options in Illinois: An Overview

Executive clemency is a legal remedy available to both incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals in Illinois. It allows the governor to grant forgiveness or leniency for a past criminal conviction. There are several types of executive clemency in Illinois:


A pardon forgives the penalties and disabilities of a past conviction. It can be absolute (forgiving all consequences) or partial (forgiving some consequences). A pardon restores civil rights lost due to the conviction. It also allows the criminal record to be expunged.

To be eligible for a pardon in Illinois, you must have completed your entire sentence at least 3 years prior. The offense cannot be impeachable, like treason or abuse of public trust. And certain sex offenses make you ineligible.


  • Restores civil rights
  • Allows record expungement
  • Removes employment barriers


  • Does not erase the fact of conviction
  • Must wait 3 years after sentence completion


A commutation reduces a prison sentence to a shorter period of time. The governor uses this clemency power to release those who have served long sentences, demonstrated rehabilitation, or for other humanitarian reasons.


  • Shortens prison sentence
  • Allows early release from prison


  • Does not expunge criminal record
  • Conviction remains


A reprieve delays the imposition of a sentence for a period of time. It is often used to postpone executions.


  • Delays sentence, preventing irreversible punishment
  • Allows time to present new evidence


  • Temporary in nature
  • Does not vacate sentence


Expungement erases the public record of an arrest or conviction. It is available by petition to the Prisoner Review Board. The offense must be eligible under the expungement statute.


  • Erases public record
  • Allows denial of conviction history


  • Very limited eligibility
  • Conviction remains on law enforcement databases

How to Apply for Clemency

To request executive clemency in Illinois, you must submit a petition to the Prisoner Review Board. The petition must include:

  • Details on the conviction
  • Your version of events
  • Reasons for seeking clemency
  • Type of clemency requested
  • Supporting documents

The petition must be received 75 days before the hearing docket. It is also sent to the judge and prosecutor. An optional public hearing can be requested.

The Board reviews petitions and makes a confidential recommendation to the governor. There is no time limit for deciding petitions. If denied, new petitions can be filed after one year.

Clemency Offers a Chance at a Fresh Start

Despite the difficulties, clemency remains important because it offers a chance at a fresh start. It recognizes that people can change and deserve a second chance. For those seeking to move on from a past mistake, it provides hope.

The commutation power also acts as a fail safe against excessive sentences. Seeking clemency can be a long-shot, but for many it presents the only possibility of relief.

While clemency is a discretionary privilege, many argue it should be treated as a responsibility. It can provide redemption to those who have paid their debt to society. Alleviating the permanent punishments of conviction is an important way Illinois can allow people to become full citizens again.


Executive clemency options like pardons, commutations and expungement offer critical relief from the lifelong consequences of conviction. But obtaining clemency in Illinois remains difficult, with approval rates declining over time. The process depends entirely on gubernatorial discretion. Many argue that reforms are needed to make clemency more fair, transparent and accessible. While the odds are long, clemency remains an important tool to grant second chances and allow past offenders to become productive members of society once again.