New York is partnering with several legal organizations to expand the state’s pro bono clemency program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The state will partner with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and other organizations helping incarcerated individuals seeking clemency from the governor’s office to provide “high-quality clemency applications.”
“These nationally recognized organizations have already proven successful in helping incarcerated individuals get access to the resources they need to apply for clemency, make the case for their rehabilitation and have the opportunity to contribute to and re-enter society,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Over the last few years, the Democratic administration has taken a concerted effort to reform the criminal justice system. In December 2015, Cuomo signed an executive order directing several state agencies to come up with a plan to remove minors from adult prisons in New York. The Cuomo administration has also doled out roughly $7 million in grants to offer college courses to inmates and in public speeches, Cuomo often boasts that he has closed more prisons than any other governor.
The governor’s pro bono clemency program began in October 2015 with volunteer lawyers from the New York State Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society of New York, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York City Bar Association, the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York’s Pro Bono Project and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County Inc. Cuomo’s office hosted an online-based program that trained them in preparing clemency applications.
The partnership announced by the Democratic governor mirrors a now-defunct Obama-era program launched in 2014, which encouraged federal inmates who are nonviolent, low-level offenders to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced.
While incarcerated individuals can apply for clemency without the help of an attorney, the governor’s office says a pro bono attorney will “enhance the quality of an inmate’s application and present his or her best case to the governor.”
Since 2011, Cuomo has commuted the sentence of only 10 people and granted pardons to 114 individuals. Most notably and controversially, in December he commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, who drove the getaway car in the deadly Brink’s robbery in Rockland County in 1981.