From: nytimes.com

More Mercy, Less Prison in a Shift for Cuomo

By Jim Dwyer
October 21, 2015

 One month ago, Allen Roskoff’s phone rang and Andrew Cuomo, governor, was on the line. In a few days, Mr. Roskoff, a Democratic civil rights activist, would be leading a candlelight vigil outside Mr. Cuomo’s home in Westchester County, calling for the governor to exercise his power to grant clemency.

Mr. Cuomo wanted Mr. Roskoff to cancel the vigil.

“I know him since he was 18 years old, when I worked to get Mario Cuomo elected,” Mr. Roskoff said. “He said: ‘Allen, I get it. I understand this. I get it. We’re going to move on this.’ ”

Mr. Roskoff was skeptical: Despite earlier promises, Mr. Cuomo, after nearly five years in office, had yet to commute the sentence of a single person. He had pardoned just five. So Mr. Roskoff went ahead with his “Candles for Clemency” vigil.

Now it looks as if the governor is keeping his word.

Mr. Cuomo has decided to commute the sentences of two people in prison on drug charges, and will pardon two others who have finished their terms but are at risk of being deported because of their convictions, his aides say. The pardons erase the convictions.

More broadly, Mr. Cuomo is creating a “clemency project” to find other worthy candidates and help them prepare petitions to be pardoned or to have their sentences commuted, according to Alphonso B. David, the governor’s chief counsel. Mr. David said that the requests would be reviewed four times a year, and that the governor’s office was asking superintendents at all the state’s prisons to suggest prisoners for consideration.

Such a project, even in embryonic form, is a drastic turnabout for New York, where governors have granted clemency to fewer than one in 100 people since 2006, with the exception of David A. Paterson, who granted about three in 100. For nearly four decades, clemency has been in decline in New York and across the country; some years it has seemed that only the Thanksgiving turkey at the White House was granted a pardon.

The orthodox view, embraced by the two leading political parties, was that there was no such thing as too much prison. That has changed.

On Wednesday, a confederation of major police and law enforcement officials released a report that said, “We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe.”

Mr. David said that bar associations and public defender organizations had agreed to help prisoners and former convicts in drawing up applications with a narrative account of rehabilitation, remorse and efforts at self-improvement. “The applications are often anemic, at best,” he said. “Some don’t even indicate a name, just, ‘I would like to be granted clemency.’ ”

Besides Mr. Roskoff, the governor has spoken extensively with Ronnie M. Eldridge, a former city councilwoman, who “has been engaged in thinking this through with the governor,” Mr. David said.

Applications will be funneled to groups like the New York County Lawyers’ Association and the Legal Aid Society, Mr. David said. A senior court administrator has promised help with bureaucratic hurdles, like assembling records, Carol A. Sigmond, president of the county lawyers association, said.

“It’s hard if you’re donating time to a project, and all you’re doing is sending the same letter over and over just so you can do the pro bono work,” Ms. Sigmond said. Sara Bennett, a lawyer who has won commutations for state prisoners, will provide training. Applications will be reviewed by corrections, parole and victim service agencies, as well as district attorneys’ offices, Mr. David said. The governor has the final say.

In a statement, Mr. Cuomo said: “Today we are taking a critical step toward a more just, more fair, and more compassionate New York. With this new initiative, we are seeking to identify those deserving of a second chance and to help ensure that clemency is a more accessible and tangible reality.”

Said Mr. Roskoff: “We will be monitoring the progress.”

So far, the governor has granted clemency for nonviolent crimes. “Where do notions of mercy and redemption fit when we are talking about people convicted of violent crime?” asked Steve Zeidman, a lawyer for Judith Clark, who has served 34 years for driving a getaway car in the robbery of an armored car. Three people were killed by the robbers.

Although she has led, by many accounts, an admirable life in prison, Ms. Clark will not be eligible for parole until 2056, when she is 107 years old. The governor is sitting on an application of over 1,000 pages to shorten her sentence. That would not erase the conviction. But he would have to decide if mercy and justice are parallel forces, aimed toward equally honorable destinations.

Officers

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

  1. Hon. Eric Adams
  2. George Arzt
  3. Lance Bass
  4. Charles Bayor
  5. John Blair
  6. Mark Benoit
  7. Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
  8. Hon. Jonathan Bing
  9. Matthew Bond
  10. Erik Bottcher
  11. Hon. Gale Brewer
  12. Danny Burstein
  13. Robin Byrd
  14. Tiffany Cabán
  15. Christian Campbell
  16. Gus Christensen
  17. Hon. Martin Connor
  18. Tom Connor
  19. Hon. Jon Cooper
  20. Wilson Cruz
  21. Hon. Laurie Cumbo
  22. Alan Cumming
  23. Michael Czaczkes
  24. Hon. Bill de Blasio
  25. Aries Dela Cruz
  26. Jon Del Giorno
  27. Kyan Douglas
  28. James Duff
  29. Hon. Ronnie Eldridge
  30. Hon. Rafael Espinal
  31. Hon. Alan Fleishman
  32. Marc Fliedner
  33. Hon. Dan Garodnick
  34. William Gerlich
  35. Dan Gettleman
  36. Jason Goldman
  37. Emily Jane Goodman
  38. Hon. Mark Green
  39. Tony Hoffmann
  40. Hon. Brad Hoylman
  41. Binn Jakupi
  42. Hon. Letitia James
  43. Hon. Corey Johnson
  44. Camille Joseph
  45. Phillip Keane
  46. Suzanne Kessler
  47. Yetta Kurland
  48. Dodge Landesman
  49. Hon. Melissa Mark-Viverito
  50. Phillip McCarthy
  51. Matt McMorrow
  52. Michael Mallon
  53. Mike C. Manning
  54. David Mansur
  55. Cathy Marino-Thomas
  56. Troy Masters
  57. Hon. Carlos Menchaca
  58. Hon. Rosie Mendez
  59. John Cameron Mitchell
  60. Donny Moss
  61. Barry Mullineaux
  62. Denis O'Hare
  63. America Olivo Campbell
  64. Noah Pfefferbilt
  65. Josue Pierre
  66. Bob Pontarelli
  67. Billy Porter
  68. Hon. Keith Powers
  69. Randy Rainbow
  70. Hon. Gustavo Rivera
  71. Hon. Helen Rosenthal
  72. Maer Roshan
  73. Sheila Rule
  74. Toby Russo
  75. Bill Samuels
  76. James Sansum
  77. Scott Sartiano
  78. Hon. Arthur Schwartz
  79. Lynn Schulman
  80. Cecile Scott
  81. Frank Selvaggi
  82. Rev. Al Sharpton
  83. David Siffert
  84. Hon. Jo Anne Simon
  85. Kathy Slawinski
  86. Tom Smith
  87. Anne Strahle
  88. Hon. Scott Stringer
  89. Wayne Sunday
  90. Hon. Bill Thompson
  91. JD Thompson
  92. Bjorn Thorstad
  93. Hon. Matt Titone
  94. Jessica Walter
  95. Barry Weinberg
  96. Seth Weissman
  97. Hon. Jumaane Williams
  98. Emma Wolfe
  99. Hon. Keith Wright
  100. Zephyr Teachout