News 04.06.20

Faith Leaders Urge Gov. Cuomo to Commute the Sentences of Elderly State Prisoners

Faith leaders' letter urges “immediate and bold action” to further “public safety” and "compassion."

By Innocence Staff

As COVID-19 continues to spread through jails and prisons around New York State, a diverse coalition of over 50 faith leaders sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging the Governor to commute the sentences of elderly state prisoners and those with underlying health conditions. The faith leaders made their request “for the sake of public safety and as a model of human compassion.”

“For the sake of public safety and as a model of human compassion.”

The letter was transmitted to the Governor by the Rev. Tony Tian-Ren Lin of the New York Theological Seminary. In his cover letter, Rev. Lin urged the Governor to “act quickly to save lives” of both incarcerated citizens and correctional staff, and added, “It would be tremendously significant to carry out this act of grace during Holy Week/Passover. As believers in the Judeo-Christian tradition, this week will culminate in the celebration of God’s mercy and new life.”

At his March 23 daily briefing, the Governor indicated that he was considering granting emergency clemencies to elderly and other high-risk New Yorkers incarcerated in state correctional facilities.

“It would be tremendously significant to carry out this act of grace during Holy Week/Passover.”

Today’s letter highlights that: “A substantial percentage of these incarcerated seniors have already served decades in prison. Attorneys with the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School who are familiar with the clemency process and have analyzed DOCCS’s data conservatively estimate that there are several hundred New Yorkers in state prison who are 60 and over and who have already served at least two decades or longer in prison. And there are approximately 100 incarcerated people who are over 70 and have already served three decades or more of their sentences.”

The letter also stresses that “[t]he cost of inaction is high, including for the general public. If these older and ill prisoners are kept inside the prison and they become infected with the COVID-19 virus, New York will be obligated to hospitalize them. It makes much more sense to allow these individuals to be released to the care of their loved ones so that ICU beds and ventilators could be used by people in the free world who are unable to self-isolate because they are serving essential functions, including hospital workers, police officers, teachers, and others.”

“A substantial percentage of these incarcerated seniors have already served decades in prison.”

See the full letter and the names of the faith leaders who have signed it here.

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