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Activists, Elected Officials Call For Increased Clemencies

At a weekend rally outside the governor's mansion in Albany, activists and elected officials demanded an increase in clemencies granted to the incarcerated.

Advocates stood outside the Eagle Street mansion Saturday afternoon, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office to use executive powers to grant clemencies four times a year to 50 men and 50 women each time, totaling 400 clemencies per year. 

Democratic Albany County Legislator Sam Fein says time is right for a change.

"...you have families that have been torn apart by a racist and unjust criminal justice system..." ~ Albany County Legislator Sam Fein

“This is the neighborhood I live in here, the Mansion Neighborhood. I live at the bottom of the street there. And at the bottom of the street, you have families that have been torn apart by a racist and unjust criminal justice system. And at the bottom of the street in the South End of Albany and in Arbor Hill and West Hill, you have families that have been that have had the wealth stolen from them. You've had families that have been put in a situation because of systemic racism because of a lack of resources that have created that have fed this criminal justice system. So now is the time to take action. The state legislature was in session down there. They passed a lot of progressive legislation that we're thankful for, but they failed to take action on our on reforming our criminal justice system, on reforming our parole system.”

John Milazzo with VOCAL ALBANY says gatherings like Saturday’s have been successful.

"This year, just working through VOCAL, we've gotten seven bills passed, through stuff like this, doing stuff for the community, protesting, so it gives a voice to the people and it allows for the people in power to see what's going on and how we feel about things, because at the end of the day, they do work for us."

Between 2017 and 2020, Cuomo reportedly received 6,405 clemency petitions, but granted clemency in just 95 cases.  

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Credit WAMC / Dave Lucas
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Albany Common Council Ward 6 candidate Gabriella Romero, just off a Democratic primary victory, says clemency is important to the local community.

“It's a great tool right now in in while we're waiting for this big criminal justice system shift, but we still need to keep our eyes on the prize. And remember what we're doing as activists and to decarcerate, eliminate this punitive system, eliminate these racial racist structures. “

Lukee Forbes, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY, was arrested in Albany when he was 15, convicted in an assault case and released at age 24 after winning an appeal. In jail, Forbes obtained his GED and read over 800 books while researching the justice system. He made an unsuccessful run for mayor of Albany this year. Forbes says prisons are overpopulated and inmates who have rehabilitated themselves should be set free via clemency.

“We need to let them back out so that they can continue to be a part of our society. And we see how things like COVID-19 has shown how the prison system is not equipped for certain things to just transpire. They had to release people under abundance without any real proper method. This is the first time anything's like that as shown the flaws in our system and we need to use this to continue to move forward and fix those flaws. We need to grant clemency four times a year instead of the way that is going right now.”

Clemencies are most often granted between Christmas and New Year's Day.  On December 24th 2020, the governor released a list of pardons and commutations to 21 people, saying "In New York, we believe the law should be just, as well as compassionate."

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A letter to Gov. Cuomo requesting changes to clemency policy appears below.

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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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