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Blagojevich, A Criminal Justice Reformer? Critics Say He Didn't Do Much As Governor

CHICAGO (CBS) -- President Trump gave Rod Blagojevich the gift of freedom.

But as CBS 2's Jim Williams reports, when Blagojevich was governor, he missed many chances do the same for those in prison.

Rod Blagojevich: the new, self-proclaimed champion of criminal justice reform, vowing to fight for those wrongly incarcerated or sentenced to long prison terms they don't deserve.

"That not only destroyed their lives and steal from them their futures, but hurt their children and families," Blagojevich lamented.

It's ironic said Cynthia Cornelius of Cabrini-Green Legal Aid.

"Through all channels, through all connections, that anyone had, we just could not get answers to those petitions," Cornelius said.

Petitions asking for commutations and pardons, for years, stacking up on the desk of Rod Blagojevich when he was the governor of Illinois.

So many and so few responses, Cabrini-Green sued Blagojevich.

"We thought at that time we could compel the governor to at least answer yes or no," Cornelius said.

The impact of Blagojevich's backlog, Cornelius said, was enormous: jobs lost, housing denied. And Cabrini-Green's clients had committed non-violent offenses.

"And their only recourse was to try to get forgiveness from that governor. And no action," Cornelius said.

By the time Blagojevich was impeached, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board said more than 3,000 petitions were awaiting action. Bruce Rauner turned down nearly 300 clemency requests in his final days in office, granted more than two dozen, but ultimately left no pending petitions.

Cornelius insists Blagojevich could have done much more when he was in power.

"A recognition that people make mistakes, and they can turn their lives around, and they deserve a chance to be a part of the community," she said.

To be clear, Blagojevich did make decisions on hundreds of clemency petitions. But his backlog was so large, so many were limbo, Cabrini-Green Legal Aid said it was not at all compassionate.

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