Sam Levin at The Guardian reports on the recent paltry number of commutations granted by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Excerpt below:
Gavin Newsom, who has faced mounting pressure to release people en masse from state prisons, announced Friday that he is granting commutations to 21 people, a move that reduces their sentences and creates a potential path for their release. He also announced pardon grants for 13 people, a step that restores some rights for those who have already served sentences.
Advocates said the move was deeply inadequate given the scale of the Covid crisis, which has infected more than 4,000 people in state prisons, leading to 20 deaths. The state announced more than 1,000 new cases in the last two weeks, a surge that advocates and experts say was preventable and is a result of the state’s negligence.
The recent outbreaks in two prisons, San Quentin and Corcoran, occurred after officials transferred hundreds of people into those facilities. They came from a prison with the largest outbreak in the state and were not tested first.
Many of the new pardon grants were for people who were convicted and imprisoned as children. Two of the pardons also involve California residents at risk of deportation due to their criminal records. Pardoning their convictions means they are no longer considered eligible for removal from the US under immigration laws.
One woman, Ny Nourn, is a survivor of domestic violence who was convicted of second-degree murder when an abusive boyfriend shot and killed someone. She was at risk of deportation to Cambodia, a country she has never been to, and now works as a community organizer in California. Another pardon grantee is Sophea Om, who was already deported to Cambodia in 2011. The pardon would potentially allow Om, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, to be reunited with her son, a US citizen.
The commutations, granted to individuals serving life sentences, makes some of them eligible for parole hearings in the coming year. They will not, however, be immediately released, and there is no guarantee they will be able to come home. Out of 44 commutations Newsom has granted since he became governor last year, a majority of them are still incarcerated today, said Colby Lenz, an advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
At the start of the pandemic, Newsom initially allowed for the early release of 3,500 people who were nearing the end of their sentences, but he has since made no large-scale efforts to reduce the prison population in response to the virus. He has also repeatedly refused to use his clemency authority to grant releases for elderly and medically vulnerable people who are at high risk of death.
The routine clemency grants for a handful of people have not made a dent in the overcrowded prison population and are also not preventing the virus outbreaks, said Lenz. “The state has done nothing to prioritize saving the lives of those most vulnerable to death from Covid … Newsom has the power to save lives with a stroke of his pen, and he is shamefully failing to do so. We are raising money for funerals instead of reconnecting families.”
Art above by Kah-Yangni