Read the fine print: Not one person will be released from prison — or even have their criminal record expunged — under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to grant “mass clemency on a level rarely seen.”
What we actually have is mass hype on a level rarely seen.
Those eligible are not prisoners. The few that meet a long list of conditions — including approval by local prosecutors and unnamed state officials — may be offered a nonbinding revocable conditional piece of paper that says a potential employer may, if they wish, hire the applicant despite his or her criminal history — which the applicant is still required to disclose.
Applicants would have been convicted of a low-level nonviolent crime when they were 16 or 17 years old, have had a clean record for 10 years, have not been convicted of a sex crime, are not in arrears on their taxes, have been evaluated by state officials, are adjudged productive members of their communities, are employed or seeking work or in school, and are approved by local prosecutors.
In the unlikely event that there is anyone left in the pool after all that, they would receive a conditional and revocable document that does nothing to remove their criminal record. They would still be required to check “yes” on any application that asks for criminal history.
If by any remote chance they then get a job interview anyway, they can present this piece of paper and the potential employer can do whatever they want with it.
The most enthusiastic supporter of mass incarceration could find nothing to complain about in this scheme. Cuomo gets the florid praise of the reformers, nobody gets out of jail (now or going forward) or gets any substantive relief from collateral consequences, the prosecutors are happy, the public is impressed, and mass incarceration goes on undisturbed.
New York’s criminal justice system needs real change, not window dressing.
This article, by Naomi Jaffe of Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration and Parole Justice New York, appeared in the Albany Times-Union under the headline, “Mass Clemency Plan Yet Another Injustice.”
To fight for real change and an end to the cycle of permanent punishment, join RAPP and Parole Justice New York.
As published in The Times Union (Albany, NY, December 29, 2015)