By Liz Benjamin
October 23, 2015
From the Morning Memo:
After a dry spell on using his clemency power – a decision that has greatly irked prison advocates – Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday issued the first two commutations to prison inmates of his gubernatorial career, and also granted two pardons, which he has done just five times before.
And this is just the beginning, according to Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David.
During a CapTon interview last night, David insisted that the delay had nothing to do with the governor feeling uncomfortable about commutations, but rather was due to a difficulty in identifying “viable” and “appropriate” candidates who had demonstrated suitable remorse and served enough of their sentences to be eligible for release.
David also addressed the unusual timing of this announcement. Clemencies are traditionally unveiled around the holiday season – a sort of feel-good move by the executive, what also has the added bonus of coming at a time when not that many people are paying attention to the news.
“We’re hopeful that you were see more clemencies in December,” David said. “We announced these clemencies today because we thought it was time. It was appropriate. We had completed the applications. We had completed our review, and there was no reason to wait to grant these clemencies, but we are still reviewing additional applications.
“We are looking on clemencies on a quarterly basis as opposed to waiting until the end of the year, which has been the traditional practice,” David added. “…We won’t have to rush through the process in December, which has been the process in the past.”
David said the governor did not feel pressured to act by advocates who recently held a vigil outside the Westchester County home he shares with Food Network star Sandra Lee, even though, according to the New York Times, Cuomo had asked one of the event’s organizers, veteran activist Allen Roskoff, to cancel it because the administration planned to act on this issue soon.
David said the governor was merely trying to “educate” advocates who were feeling “restless” due to a perceived lack of action on the administration’s part and didn’t fully appreciate that “all of this was a work in progress.” He added that Cuomo planned a complete structural change to the clemency process to make it easier in the future for prisoners to apply – and ostensibly receive – a chance to get out early.
David said the administration is not closing the door on considering clemency for offenders with violent pasts, (which makes their cases a bit trickier, from a public relations perspective).
He also said the governor wanted to be sure to create a “sustainable infrastructure” of a clemency system to review and process applications, which is why relationships with various organizations that can provide free legal services to offenders have been established.