Victoria Law @ The Appeal; excerpt below:
In 2015, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the creation of an Executive Clemency Bureau to identify people in the state’s prison system who might be worthy of commutation. The announcement sparked hope among the system’s approximately 50,000 prisoners, their families, and advocates that they might soon rejoin their families.
Cuomo encouraged attorneys and law firms to donate pro bono hours to help incarcerated people prepare their petitions. Many heeded the call and devoted significant time and resources to helping dozens of people imprisoned across the state.
But these efforts have not proved fruitful.
In December 2016, Cuomo had granted only seven commutations. One was to Judith Clark, a former Weather Underground member initially sentenced to 75 years to life; her commutation allowed her to appear before the parole board immediately instead of waiting until 2056. (Clark was denied parole and remains in prison.) Another commutation granted an immediate release to Valerie Seeley, a domestic violence survivor sentenced to 19 years to life for the fatal stabbing of her abusive boyfriend in 1998, an act that she has always maintained was in self-defense.
About one year later, Cuomo’s office announced more commutations—this time, it was only to two men. He has not granted any clemencies since then. His office did not respond to The Appeal’s queries about the possibility of future commutations.
Some advocates charge that Cuomo’s criteria are too stringent. “Cuomo, under the state constitution, has complete discretion and ultimate power to commute people’s sentences at any time and for any reason,” points out Mariame Kaba, a founding member of Survived and Punished, a network that works with criminalized and imprisoned survivors of gender-based violence. “We are perplexed by the rules he set for himself. They’re incredibly narrow and leave out an incredible number of people.”