Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Zeidman on Clemency

At the New York Daily News, (story here) Steve Zeidman says that is it "high time to think about the thousands of people behind bars who truly merit" clemency.
... if we want truly to confront the problem of overincarceration, governors need to use their power much more broadly. And not just to free drug offenders, but to release people incarcerated for violent crimes as well. 
Zeidman says "the compelling need for clemency today" is the "direct result of the Draconian sentences routinely meted out in courtrooms across the country over the past several decades."
In New York, rather than a 20-year maximum, there are almost 9,000 people serving sentences with a 20-year minimum, and almost 10,000 people serving sentences with a maximum of life. Nearly 3,000 people have already been locked up for at least 20 years, and more than 2,000 behind bars are older than 60. Contrary to prevailing rhetoric that links mass incarceration to the war on drugs, the fact is the majority of people serving these long sentences are not in prison for drug offenses. Only about 5% of the 52,000 people in New York’s labyrinth of 54 state prisons are there for drug possession, and merely an additional 6% were convicted of selling drugs. 
Zeidman also suggests that "focusing on so-called low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will barely make a dent in the prison population." Gov. Cuomo took what he called “a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York” by creating the first pro bono program for people seeking clemency. He emphasized that his goal was to make clemency “a more accessible and tangible reality.” Zeidman says, "That objective has yet to be realized. Only a small handful of people have received clemency."

In a speech at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said:
“The pardon process, of late, seems to have been drained of its moral force. A people confident in its laws and institutions should not be ashamed of mercy. . . . I hope more lawyers involved in the pardon process will say to chief executives, ‘Mr. President,’ or ‘Your Excellency, the Governor, this young man has not served his full sentence, but he has served long enough. Give him what only you can give him. Give him another chance. Give him a priceless gift. Give him liberty.’ ”

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