Tag Archives: Gov. David Paterson

The governor’s power to grant clemency

Under the New York State Constitution, the governor has the power to grant clemency to prisoners “upon such conditions and with such limitation, as he may think proper” (excluding for crimes of treason or impeachment). Most states in the U.S. give the extraordinary power of clemency to governors (or at least in some hybrid arrangement with a parole board). The issue is currently in the news because of the recent shooting deaths of four police officers in Washington State, allegedly by Maurice Clemmons, whose prison sentence in Arkansas was commuted in 2000 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. The speculation is that the willingness of Huckabee, who ran an upstart presidential campaign in 2008, to grant clemency may hurt his presidential ambitions in 2012. It is in this context that I noticed an excellent post on The New York Times’ City Room blog on this very issue. It begins:

This month Gov. David A. Paterson will be mulling the fate of roughly 150 inmates in New York prisons who have formally applied for clemency in the hope of having their prison sentences shortened or their criminal convictions forgiven.

It is a traditional — if increasingly rare — holiday gesture of mercy. Over three and a half decades the number of inmates who have had their sentences commuted or convictions pardoned has steadily dropped.

The post’s author, A.G. Sulzberger, goes on to say that unfortunately, many governors now weigh the political consequences of granting clemency, particularly if they are to soon to go before the electorate. Prison advocates like Robert Gangi, director of the Correctional Association of New York, fear that this year, Gov. Paterson, facing low poll numbers and the upcoming election, will grant clemency to few, if any, inmates.

Similarly, in 2006, when then-Gov. George E. Pataki was mulling over a 2008 presidential run, he declined to grant clemency to any inmates.

One wonders then, whether he would have been willing to commute the prison sentence of Elaine Bartlett in 2000 if he had faced an upcoming election (his next was in 2002) or considered vying for a spot on the Republican presidential ticket that year. I recently finished the book,“Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett,” which tells Bartlett’s story of serving a 20-to-life sentence for a first-time drug offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws until Pataki commuted her sentence after 16 years. It was tough enough for Bartlett to receive clemency when Pataki did not face the circumstances described above, so I can only imagine if he had. She probably would have served at least another four years, when in truth, she should have been granted clemency after ten (half of the minimum of the sentence). But in 1995, Pataki had just been elected in the mold of a “law-and-order” Republican — surely not someone who was going to be granting clemency.

But after watching this clip of Pataki last week — considered a dark-horse for the 2012 Republican presidential nod — drawing a contrast between his record and that of Huckabee, I get the feeling that Elaine Bartlett was lucky to have received a commutation at all.

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Inmates To Work For Nonprofits With Details To Be Worked Out In Assembly

By Kieran K. Meadows

State and local inmates will soon be able to work for nonprofit agencies again—and this time it will be legal.

New York voters approved a ballot proposition in the recent general election that allows prisoners to perform volunteer work for nonprofit organizations. The result now enables the state Assembly to begin drafting a law outlining guidelines on how the work would be done. The prisoner advocacy community is planning to make a concerted effort to influence the bill’s content.

Prisoners in New York have long worked on municipal jobs, such as being part of a crew that cleans up a state-run site like a park. The ballot measure’s passing, by 68 to 32 percent, clears up a legal question that had halted sheriff-sponsored programs that had brought inmates to work at charities, fairgrounds, cemeteries, churches, and other nonprofits.

“This just makes it possible once again,” said John Caher, spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The practice had been considered illegal due to a provision in the state Constitution that says no prisoner “shall be farmed out, contracted, given or sold to any person, firm, association or corporation.” The Constitution, however, does permit prisoners to work for public purposes on state projects.

According to Caher, the state Commission of Correction four years ago advised sheriffs to discontinue the practice of allowing inmates to work for nonprofits. Since then, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association has lobbied the Legislature to change correction law to allow the practice. However, because it was prohibited by the Constitution, passing a statute is insufficient—an amendment is required to make it legal.

In order to pass an amendment in New York, voters must approve a ballot proposition. To get on the ballot, the question must first pass the Assembly and Senate in two successive sessions—this question has overwhelmingly passed both houses twice.

The ballot measure’s passing now authorizes the state Legislature to write a law to amend the state Constitution.

“Now that this is legal we will defer to the Legislature and governor to determine whether such an initiative advances the public interest,” Caher.

Some in the prisoner advocacy community are looking to find out what the proposition’s approval will actually mean in practice for inmates.

“This thing caught us a little off guard,” said Dr. Divine Pryor, the director of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, the first and only policy and academic research center developed and staffed by formerly incarcerated individuals. “There are many incarceration issues and due to our limited capacity here, we were probably focusing on another priority.”

Now, Pryor said, “the Center is committed to providing legislators the most current and precise information on issues that affect urban communities like the proposition does.”

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Rockefeller drug law reforms go into effect

David Paterson NYCNew York’s Gov. David Paterson may be ridiculously unpopular these days, but if anything, his legacy will include accomplishing something that no one could for over 30 years: reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The governor visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to mark the day the reforms, through a deal reached in Albany last March, went into effect.

“Today is a day for second chances,” Gov. Paterson said to a crowd gathered in the Kings County courtroom.

Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, was there and lavished praise on the governor:

Governor Paterson deserves thanks and praise for getting the job done. He has been instrumental and worked tirelessly, first as a state senator from Harlem and then as governor, to make these reforms happen.

But Papa still said much needs to be done:

Now that the laws have been reformed, we have to make sure the changes are done right. Advocates and service providers have jumped in and have been working diligently to prepare for implementation.

The revisions to the law, signed by Paterson in April, now gives judges the option of sending nonviolent offenders to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs rather then sending them to jail. Under the old laws, there were mandatory minimums of 15 years to life, even for first-time offenders. The law that went into effect on Wednesday will also allow lawyers for nonviolent offenders to file petitions to judges for resentencing, although no one is guaranteed this chance. Each case—and advocates estimate there may be up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals eligible—will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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