Republican lawmakers furious over parole of Judith Clark and a new bill that could free some older prisoners
by Brendan Roney
Republican lawmakers are lashing out at the recent parole of Judith Clark, a 69-year-old woman who spent nearly four decades in prison for her role as a getaway driver in a 1981 armed robbery of Brink’s armored car that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard.
Clark, who many see as a model prisoner, had the support of 70 state and local officials who have been lobbying for her release for years. But others say she should serve out her original 75-year sentence.
“It is unconscionable that criminals who have demonstrated a complete disregard for human life — especially those involved in the murder of law enforcement officers — are able to walk the streets and enjoy the same privileges as law-abiding citizens,” said Brian Kolb, the leader of the Assembly Republican Conference. “A year ago, this Parole Board let loose cop-killer Herman Bell, who was convicted of executing two New York City police officers. The Board’s decision [on Clark] goes beyond bad judgment. It is malpractice.
“[Their] inexplicable decision only raises questions about its credibility, its priorities and its actual value to the people of New York state,” Kolb said.
Kolb is joined by his fellow Assembly Republicans Karl Brabenec, Ed Ra, Colin Schmitt and Steve Hawley who are accusing the state Parole Board of catering to criminals “while ignoring the needs of everyday citizens.”
On October 20, 1981, six men robbed a Brink’s truck at the Nanuet Mall in Rockland County, and during the robbery, one guard was killed and another was seriously wounded. During their attempted escape, their van was stopped by Nyack police officers Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady, who were both killed in a gun battle with the robbers.
Clark, age 31 at the time and a member of the May 19 Communist Organization — an offshoot of the Weather Underground, was waiting nearby in a getaway car and tried to flee with one of the robbers and another accomplice. After a brief chase, she crashed the car and was arrested.
Senate Republican Conference Leader John Flanagan was also critical of the Parole Board’s 2-1 decision to set Clark free.
“The decision to parole Judith Clark, a radical leftist member of the Weather Underground, who participated in a bank heist that left two police officers and a security guard dead, is chilling,” Flanagan said. [She] should remain behind bars for the maximum amount of time her sentence allows, which is life.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted Clark’s sentence to 35 years to life in December 2016, which made her eligible for parole. She was initially denied parole in April 2017, with the Boards saying Clark was “still a symbol of violent and terroristic crime.”
In her second attempt, Clark was granted parole on April 17 and is expected to go free on May 15.
A group called Candles for Clemency — founded by gay rights and social justice activist Allen Roskoff — was instrumental in advocating for Clark’s release. The organization brought together 70 elected officials, including 11 Members of Congress, state legislators and New York City Council Members who convinced Gov. Cuomo to grant clemency to Clark in 2016. Without clemency, Clark would not have been eligible for parole.
“Judith’s release has been a long time coming and is justice for elderly inmates,” Roskoff said. “The principles guiding our state’s criminal justice system are starting to shift, and today is truly a historic day.
“No one who has served their time, made a dramatic shift in their lives, and are positively contributing to their community should be left to die inside a prison cell,” Roskoff said.
Candles for Clemency spent more than a decade advocating for Clark’s release by hosting demonstrations at the Governor’s house, bringing elected officials to meet Judith one-on-one, and writing letters of support on Clark’s behalf to the state Parole Board.
A new bill in the state Legislature would grant parole eligibility to elderly inmates, such as Clark.
Senator Brad Hoylman, who urged the Parole Board to release Clark last week, is the sponsor of legislation (S.2144/A.4319) that would allow for the consideration of elder parole for incarcerated people aged 55 and above who have already served 15 consecutive years in prison.
More than 10,000 people in New York state prisons — 20 percent of the prison population — are aged 50 or older.
This legislation, sponsored by David Weprin in the Assembly, is geared towards people like Clark, who many believe serves as a model of rehabilitation.
Clark earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while behind bars, and led programs to improve prenatal care and counseling for inmates with AIDS. She has both publicly and privately expressed the sorrow and remorse she feels for her part in the Brink’s robbery.
Clark was also one of the two first prisoners in New York state to receive certification as a chaplain.
“Our corrections system must center on rehabilitation, and not revenge. In the nearly four decades that she has been incarcerated, Judith Clark has acknowledged her crimes, expressed remorse, and made every effort to repair and transform her life,” said Hoylman, “She has become a role model to many of her fellow incarcerated New Yorkers.”
Weprin, chair of the Assembly Committee on Corrections, joined in praising the Parole Board for releasing Clark.
“Every woman I meet who was formerly incarcerated at Bedford Hills has told me that Ms. Clark was influential in helping them through their period of incarceration and in helping them become a productive member of society,” said Weprin, “If there is anyone deserving of parole in New York State’s prison system it is Judith Clark.”