Gov. Newsom grants pardon to Susan Burton, who assists women returning to society after prison

Susan Burton
Susan Burton, a former inmate who now helps other women transition from prison to society, was granted a pardon Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom granted pardons Wednesday night to seven people, including Susan H. Burton, a former inmate who now helps other women transition from prison to society.

“By granting these pardons to people who are transforming their lives, the governor is seeking to remove barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction,” Newsom’s office said in a statement.

Burton was raised in housing projects in East Los Angeles and was sexually assaulted several times. In 1982, her 5-year-old son was accidentally hit and killed by an off-duty LAPD officer. She turned to crack cocaine and was in and out of prison until she finally found sobriety in a program in Santa Monica.


After getting off drugs, she worked to help other former female inmates adjust to life without bars and avoid crime.

Burton founded a Watts-based nonprofit, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, that provides housing for women when they leave prison and helps them find work and recover from drug addiction.

She also has advocated against long prison sentences and for the restoration of ex-felons’ civil rights, including the right to vote. She has received several awards for her work and in 2017 wrote a book, “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women.”

Burton could not immediately be reached for comment.

The governor is authorized to grant clemency under the California Constitution. A pardon does not minimize past conduct, nor does it expunge or erase the conviction, Newsom’s office said in a statement.

The announcement came after a majority of the seven-justice California Supreme Court decided in a closed session Tuesday that Burton was eligible for a pardon. A majority of the court must review all clemency applications for people who have more than one felony.

Burton sought the pardon. In 2004, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted her a certificate of rehabilitation for her three drug convictions.


In December, the Board of Parole Hearings referred her application to the governor’s office with a favorable recommendation. Newsom then forwarded Burton’s case to the state high court.

In the court’s order approving a pardon, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote separately that the court grants such petitions if they do not represent an abuse of power.

“It is merely an acknowledgment that the governor may legitimately consider granting the application,” Liu wrote.

Times staff writer Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.