Pardoned criminals do not get their records expunged. Rather, they get certain constitutional rights restored: They can vote, work as probation officers, be selected for jury duty, and possibly possess a gun.
Most of Brown's 79 were low-level offenders. Around three-quarters of the pardons "involved drug crimes, many of which carried no prison sentence," according to the Sacramento Bee, adding that "other pardons involved more serious crimes: one conviction for involuntary manslaughter, four for grand theft, four for robbery and three for felony driving under the influence."
California's habit of pardoning very few criminals began in the early '90s under Wilson, who proclaimed a "tough on crime" platform. Wilson signed the Three Strikes policy into law and ended the state's 25-year moratorium on executions. He pardoned 13 people.
The two governors after him were even tougher. Davis didn't pardon anyone, and Schwarzenegger pardoned seven. Similarly, while Wilson approved 73 percent of releases recommended by the parole board, Davis approved 1 percent and Schwarzenegger approved around 25 percent.
Brown has approved 70 percent of parole board release recommendations. He has helped usher in some of the state's most significant criminal justice reforms in recent memory. This year he signed a bill that gives parole opportunities to juvenile offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and another allowing inmates who committed a crime against an abusive partner to petition for release. On Election Day, California voters passed Prop. 36, which amends the state's "Three Strikes" law so that non-violent offenders won't get hit with life sentences.
Each of those policies, though, also served the dual purpose of helping ease California's overcrowded prison crisis -- by shuttling out certain inmates who are probably not a danger to society. Granting pardons offers no such collateral benefit. They simply reward "people who have demonstrated exemplary behavior following their conviction," Brown's office declared in a statement. "A pardon will not be granted unless it has been earned."