From: theexaminernews.com

Protestors Call on Cuomo to Reconsider Clemency at Candlelight Vigil

By Martin Wilbur
September 7, 2014

Candles for Clemency organizer Allen Roskoff leads march along Route 133 Saturday night to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's house in hopes of having the governor reconsider his refusal in granting clemency to prisoners.
Candles for Clemency organizer Allen Roskoff leads march along Route 133 Saturday night to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s house in hopes of having the governor reconsider his refusal in granting clemency to prisoners.

 

Close to 200 demonstrators held a rally and candlelight vigil Saturday night near the New Castle home of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to protest his refusal to grant clemency to prisoners since he took office in 2011.

The event, called Candles for Clemency, was attended by various social justice activists and family and friends of prisoners. They gathered in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco on Route 133 where organizers and guest speakers addressed the crowd on the importance of stepping up the pressure on Cuomo before taking the short walk to his house where they quietly filed onto the street holding conventional or electric candles.

Event co-organizer Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Democratic Liberal Club, which has endorsed Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, said his organization has taken up the issue because Cuomo is the first governor in decades who has refused to grant clemency to a single prisoner. During his time as California’s governor, for example, Ronald Reagan granted 575 clemencies, he said.

“It’s a governor’s responsibility to undo unjust acts such as sentences which are cruel and never should have been imposed,” Roskoff said. “But because of more stringent laws at a time when society was different, courts overcharged people and maximized their sentences beyond what is considered reasonable by a civilized society.”

Local protestors were joined by a busload of demonstrators from the city at about dusk. They heard from a variety of speakers who focused on different aspects of the issue, including a few who accused Cuomo of a calculated political maneuver.

Robert Dennison, the state’s chairman of parole under Gov. George Pataki, said it is critical that the public understands that clemency doesn’t release a person from prison but makes them eligible to be heard before the parole board sooner.

“It’s time for Andrew Cuomo to stop thinking about himself all the time and try to think about these powerless human beings who have totally changed their lives, are good people and hopefully he’ll wake up with vigils like this and media exposure because it’s really a tragedy,” Dennison said.

Former state Supreme Court justice Emily Jane Goodman said the toughening of guidelines has forced judges to impose mandatory sentences for certain crimes, which are out of sync with the offense or don’t take into account extenuating circumstances.

“When we talk about clemency what we mean is mercy and grace,” Goodman said.

Some in the crowd held signs in support of former political activist and Weather Underground Organization member Judith Clark, who was convicted for her role as the driver of a getaway car in the 1981 Brinks heist in Nyack that left a security guard and two police officers dead. Clark, an inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, was sentenced to 75 years to life. She is not eligible for parole until 2056 despite having been portrayed as a model prisoner by Dennison, the prison’s former warden and several others.

Donna Hylton, who was paroled from Bedford Hills two-and-a-half years ago after spending 27 years in prison for murder, said Cuomo’s refusal to grant clemency makes the penal system only about punishment, not rehabilitation.

“We’re just asking, we’re begging, we’re pleading to have some compassion,” Hylton said. “This was a system that was developed, designed to rehabilitate and what this governor is saying (is) we have no redemptive qualities.”

One of the demonstrators, Rabbi Joanna Katz, the Jewish chaplain at Bedford Hills, said she sees firsthand how some prisoners have been transformed but continue to languish in prison with virtually no hope.

“How do we ever know if somebody has done enough time? It’s hard to measure,” Katz said. “But if they are obviously changed people and they’ve served long sentences and they’re no longer a threat, I think clemency is certainly possible.”

Roskoff vowed that the effort wasn’t simply a campaign season effort but an issue the protestors plan to follow up on unless Cuomo reconsiders before the end of the year.

“If clemencies are not issued before the holiday season we will be back here in December in larger numbers,” he said.

Officers

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

  1. Hon. Eric Adams
  2. George Arzt
  3. Lance Bass
  4. John Blair
  5. Mark Benoit
  6. Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
  7. Hon. Jonathan Bing
  8. Robin Byrd
  9. Hon. Gale Brewer
  10. Christian Campbell
  11. Lisa Cannistraci
  12. Kathleen Chalfant
  13. Gus Christensen
  14. Erik Coler
  15. Debra Cooper
  16. Hon. Jon Cooper
  17. Wilson Cruz
  18. Hon. Laurie Cumbo
  19. Alan Cumming
  20. Valorie Curry
  21. Michael Czaczkes
  22. Hon. Bill de Blasio
  23. Jon Del Giorno
  24. Aries Dela Cruz
  25. Kyan Douglas
  26. Hon. Daniel Dromm
  27. James Duff
  28. Hon. Ronnie Eldridge
  29. Kathryn Erbe
  30. Hon. Herman Farrell
  31. Hon. Alan Fleishman
  32. Hon. Dan Garodnick
  33. Dan Gettleman
  34. Hon. Richard Gottfried
  35. Hon. Mark Green
  36. Robert Grunnah
  37. Tony Hoffmann
  38. Hon. Brad Hoylman
  39. Binn Jakupi
  40. Hon. Letitia James
  41. Hon. Corey Johnson
  42. Camille Joseph
  43. Phillip Keane
  44. Greg Lambert
  45. Marc Landis
  46. Dodge Landesman
  47. Cameron McFadden
  48. Michael Mallon
  49. Mike C. Manning
  50. Cathy Marino-Thomas
  51. Artyom Matusov
  52. Hon. Carlos Menchaca
  53. Hon. Rosie Mendez
  54. John Cameron Mitchell
  55. Donny Moss
  56. Barry Mullineaux
  57. Ali Najmi
  58. Hon. Paul Newell
  59. Hon. Yuh-Line Niou
  60. Noah Pfefferbilt
  61. Bob Pontarelli
  62. Billy Porter
  63. Joe Pressley
  64. Hon. Jenifer Rajkumar
  65. Hon. Gustavo Rivera
  66. Hon. Helen Rosenthal
  67. Maer Roshan
  68. Toby Russo
  69. Bill Samuels
  70. James Sansum
  71. Scott Sartiano
  72. Hon. Arthur Schwartz
  73. Lynn Schulman
  74. Hon. Rebecca Seawright
  75. Frank Selvaggi
  76. Rev. Al Sharpton
  77. Hon. Jo Anne Simon
  78. Tom Smith
  79. David Spegal
  80. Marti Speranza
  81. Anne Strahle
  82. Hon. Scott Stringer
  83. Wayne Sunday
  84. Hon. Bill Thompson
  85. Hon. Matt Titone
  86. Hon. Ritchie Torres
  87. Sam Underwood
  88. Derek Walker
  89. Jessica Walter
  90. Patricia Nell Warren
  91. Kathleen Waterman
  92. Wil Weder
  93. Seth Weissman
  94. Mel Wymore
  95. Emma Wolfe
  96. Hon. Keith Wright
  97. Zephyr Teachout