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Some Elected Officials Backing Effort To Increase Clemency

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Activists were joined online by elected officials Wednesday for the launch of the New York State Clemency Initiative.Freedom Unshackled Coalition's initiative to convince New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to increase granting "racial and gender diverse" clemencies to four times a year began with a letter the group sent to the Democrat May 6th.

Both the Albany County Legislature and the city Common Council have previously made formal declarations asking the governor to grant clemency more frequently.

Roni Minter with Freedom Unshackled says that under Cuomo, clemency has traditionally only been granted once a year, during the holiday season.

"Governor Cuomo actually ran on a platform that he will fix the clemency issues within the Department of Corrections and make it a smoother process. This has been a failed experiment of his. Just a little background: Governor Carey issue 155 computations. Governor Mario Cuomo issued 37 computations, Governor Pataki issued 32, and at the end of 2019, Governor Cuomo had only shortened 11 sentences."

Minter says Cuomo could grant time commutations right now if he wanted to, and she adds there are thousands of applications on the governor's desk.

Luke Grandis is the upstate lead organizer for Vocal New York

"We need clemency to compliment parole reform bills, we need parole reform bills to complement clemency. And we truly need the governor to take that wave of the pen power that he has, and put it into action."

In January, a majority of Albany County Legislators signed a proclamation introduced by second-term Democrat Sam Fein urging Governor Cuomo to grant clemency quarterly.

"We have an incarceration problem in this country. We often, what we do is we respond to issues in our society, by locking people up by more policing, rather than providing people with the services they need and addressing the root causes of crime and addressing poverty, inequality, a lack of resources, and our prison population is also disproportionately, heavily disproportionately people of color, we have to recognize the racism within our criminal justice system, which makes it even more pressing, that we address these issues."

Fein adds money spent to keep people behind bars could instead fund health care, housing, education and jobs. He says that would deter crime and make communities like his 6th legislative district, which includes parts of Albany's Arbor Hill and the South End, safer.

Albany Common Councilor Derek Johnson, a Democrat from the 2nd ward, says he appreciates the attention activists are drawing to those behind bars.

"We have to have people who are speaking up for people who are incarcerated, because a lot of times, they don't have anybody. There's a lot of people that's incarcerated that don't have, they don't get visits, they're not getting letters. And so these type of organizations are providing hope for them and address issues. Because it's sad that you do get time, you feel like you paid your debt for your crime, and you get out here and you find out, you can't move where you want to move, you can't do things that other people are doing, voting, and just living the quality of life that you may have worked yourself up to be able to do."

A Cuomo spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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