Pritzker should consider granting clemency for prisoner hoping to get Ph.D.
If any prisoner has a solid argument for being released, it seems to us, it’s Johnny Pippins, who earned undergraduate and master’s degrees while behind bars and has expressed remorse for the murder he committed.
Johnny Pippins has served 26 years of a 30-year prison sentence for shooting and killing a man he tried to rob with his brother and others in Rock Island in 1996.
He now wants to be a free man, so he can pursue his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Iowa, which has offered him a full scholarship.
But Pippins, now 52, can't pursue his doctorate — the program has to be completed in person — unless Gov. J.B. Pritzker grants him clemency and an early release.
We urge the governor to strongly consider the request. Time is running out. Pippins’ story of redemption — told in a story published by WBEZ in partnership with the nonprofit newsroom Open Campus — is a testament to the power of education to transform prisoners willing to put in the work of turning their lives around.
It’s unclear whether Pritzker will move forward with Pippins’ application for clemency, and his office hadn't returned our call Monday to tell us what he has planned. But the clock is ticking, since the program Pippins has been accepted into starts Aug. 22, and he cannot ask the university for an extension.
Meanwhile, clemency hearings in Illinois were put on hold earlier this year after state senators rejected two of Pritzker’s nominees to the Prisoner Review Board. The governor has also faced backlash for other pardons involving people who were charged with serious crimes.
But if any prisoner has a solid argument for being released, it seems to us, it’s Pippins. He earned his undergraduate degree at Adams State University and a master's degree in statistical science from the University of Idaho while he was behind bars.
Pippins loved studying as a child. But growing up with an abusive father and in a family that moved often, he got lured into a life of crime. In prison, he turned back to education and earned the free ride for a Ph.D. program — not an easy feat for anyone, let alone an inmate.
Pippins has expressed remorse for his crime, and murder and its consequences should never be taken lightly. The feelings of the victim’s family must also be taken into consideration.
But what also needs to be taken into account is the Rock Island County state's attorney has not filed an objection to Pippins’ clemency petition. Pippins also has the backing of correctional officers and a number of professors.
Men and women who leave prison are expected to be productive members of society, which is a challenge with a criminal record and very little, if any, professional experience. Pippins is on his way to meeting that challenge.
What he needs is a chance to finish.
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