As the Advisory Board of Pardons, the Massachusetts Parole Board ensures that the requirements for clemency are met, conducts investigations about petitioners, determines whether a hearing should be held, and makes recommendations to the Governor accordingly. See Governor's Clemency Guidelines for further information.
A pardon is a forgiveness of the offender's underlying offense. The Parole Board first reviews the case to assess whether or not it warrants a hearing. If they determine that a hearing should be held, they'll conduct a hearing and the full Parole Board will then make a recommendation to the Governor.
To be granted a pardon, a petitioner must have demonstrated "good citizenship," as well as a specific, verified, and compelling need for a pardon. In making its decision, the Parole Board views evidence, including support for the petitioner in the institution and community, their accomplishments and achievements, and the nature and extent of opposition to the petition.
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Unlike a pardon, a commutation doesn't mean that there's forgiveness for the underlying offense. It simply means that the period of incarceration served for the offense has been reduced. The initial process is similar to the process undertaken for a pardon in that the Parole Board determines if a hearing is warranted. The entire Parole Board then conducts a commutation hearing, which is open to the public, and makes a recommendation to the Governor based on its findings.