Clemency gives a second chance to deserving New Yorkers. Governor Cuomo has the power to grant clemencies-which reunite families and help make our communities safer and stronger.
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Why Clemency matters
Clemency is the power of the Governor to pardon a person previously convicted of a crime or to commute a prison sentence to a lesser term than was initially imposed. Clemency embodies a basic recognition that all human beings are fallible and capable of change. Redemption is always possible.
Formerly convicted individuals who have returned to society and remained crime free for a significant period should routinely be considered for pardons to eliminate the pervasive collateral consequences that limit opportunity and subject individuals to lifelong debarments and disabilities. The consequences can be especially catastrophic for non-citizen residents. Pardons can prevent families from being ripped apart through the harsh and irrational application of federal immigration laws against New Yorkers whose misdeeds may have occurred years in the past.
Equally deserving of the mercy-dispensing power of clemency are long-serving inmates, whose institutional record suggests that they can be returned to the community without any significant risk to public safety. Clemency recognizes extraordinary rehabilitation, granting deserving individuals a second chance. Science now recognizes that brain development, especially with respect to judgment and impulse control, continues until the age of 25. Excessively long sentences ignore the fact that all people change, evolve, and gain insight as they age. And clemency is one way to address the problem of over-incarceration. Finding and releasing individuals who have grown and matured, and whose return to the community poses no threat to public safety saves money, reunites families, and makes our communities stronger.
Executive clemency is a power vested in Governor Cuomo by the New York State Constitution to provide relief to those convicted of a criminal offense. It can take the form of commutations and pardons.
What is the difference between a Commutation and a Pardon?
A commutation is the power to reduce the length of a sentence of a person currently in prison.
A pardon typically is granted to individuals who have already been released. It absolves the individual of legal guilt from a criminal conviction or restores rights lost as a result of a conviction.
Does clemency make us less safe?
No, clemency can improve safety. Before someone is granted a commutation, they are heavily vetted by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the Governor’s Counsel’s Office to ensure they pose little risk to their communities.Prosecutors and victims have input as well as the applicant’s advocate. Applicants who receive clemency have worked hard to improve themselves during their incarceration and have demonstrated that they have matured while in prison. The sooner they return to their communities the better their chance at a successful re-integration and reduced chance of committing new crimes. Releasing these deserving individuals allows DOCCS to focus resources on those needing rehabilitation.
Pardons can have a similar impact. Restoring someone’s rights gives them a better chance of success and access to jobs, homes, education, and other opportunities thereby making it less likely they reoffend.
Is clemency expensive for New York State?
Commutations can save the state money. Keeping someone in prison is expensive. This is especially true for elderly prisoners requiring additional health care and other services. Additionally, releasing those who pose little to no risk to society allows funds to be allocated for better uses, and enables people to support their families and become productive members of the community and taxpayers. Pardons give people full access to opportunities, such as better jobs, better housing, and better education. These opportunities mean these individuals are less likely to need state assistance.
Is clemency only for those convicted of non-violent crimes like drug crimes?
No, anyone can apply for clemency. Individuals who were convicted of a violent offense are often the best candidates for rehabilitation, and data suggests these individuals are less likely to be convicted of a new offense after release. Further, some individuals who are convicted of crimes that are legally deemed “violent,” did not actually engage in violence.
Are those who receive a commutation just released on to the street?
A standard part of any Application for a Commutation is what is called a release plan. This provides a comprehensive overview of where and with whom they will live upon release and what skills and job prospects they may have.
Why are commutations important?
Severe mandatory minimum sentences subjected many people to extremely harsh sentences. But often, the person who committed the crime, very often quite young when convicted, is not the same person years later. People mature, they grow, and they gain insight. When their institutional record confirms that evolution, they can be safely considered for release, thereby reuniting families, restoring communities, and saving valuable taxpayer resources.
My family member is incarcerated in New York or wants a pardon, how can they apply?
The eligibility information and the process to apply is available on the New York State website at http://www.ny.gov/services/apply-clemency.