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Franklin Co. Jail warden tabbed for state parole board

June 19, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has nominated Franklin County Jail Warden John E. Wetzel to fill the corrections expert vacancy on the state Board of Pardons.

"John's years of experience as a prison administrator will enable him to provide a unique and valued perspective that will contribute greatly to the board's deliberations and decisions," Rendell was quoted as saying in Friday's news release.

"It's a pretty prestigious board, plus I'm interested in the justice system as a whole," Wetzel said Monday. A colleague made him aware of the vacancy on the five-member board and Wetzel said he submitted a letter of interest in March.

"It's an honor to be nominated by the governor," said Wetzel, a Republican. Senate confirmation is required for the appointment to the six-year term, he said.

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Wetzel said he would remain warden if appointed to the board.

A spokeswoman for state Sen. Terry Punt's office said Punt, R-Franklin, "fully supports" Wetzel's nomination, but it is not known when the Senate might vote on the appointment.

By law, the board is made up of the lieutenant governor and attorney general and three gubernatorial appointments - one reserved for a doctor, psychiatrist of psychologist; another for a victim representative; and one for a corrections expert. According to the board's Web site, the corrections position has been vacant since Oct. 31, 2005.

The board meets nine times a year, the next one scheduled for Sept. 6, said John Heaton, the board's secretary. Members are paid $13,587 a year, he said.

Wetzel said the clemency petitions range from "people who did something stupid in life and want to get it removed from their record, up to capital cases."

Heaton said the most common requests for clemency are for employment reasons, people wanting something removed from their record for the purpose of getting a job. The second most common is people wanting to own and possess firearms, a right many lost retroactive to federal law imposing greater restrictions on people with criminal pasts, he said.

Heaton said the board has not reviewed a capital case in more than 40 years.

The board reviews petitions for clemency, commutations, pardons and other relief then makes recommendations to the governor. The board recommended 140 pardons in 2005 and the governor granted 124, according to board figures. Board figures for 2006 were incomplete.

Named Franklin County's third warden in 2002, Wetzel previously worked in corrections in Berks County. He was instrumental in the county's decision to build a $30 million prison that was dedicated in May.

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