Advocates push Hochul to use clemency powers for older inmates

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NEW YORK CITY — Activists around the state, in a coordinated effort, are pressuring Gov. Kathy Hochul release more prisoners with her clemency powers.

Even with the pandemic, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo showed little interest in pardoning and commuting sentences during his more than 10 years in office. So far Hochul, has yet to exercise the power to pardon or commute.

“Hochul, Hochul, bring them home!” protesters chanted outside the governor’s midtown office Tuesday.

Among those rallying for Hochul to more broadly use her powers of clemency is the family of Robert Webster. They say the Queens man was wrongfully convicted at the ago of 17 for arson, and has served 34 years of a 50-year sentence.

“He did everything he had to do up there,” said Webster’s cousin. “He got a bachelors degree. He finished every course they gave him up there. He’s on honor roll. He never had a problem and he’s fighting to be free.”

Activists said there are thousands of cases just like Webster’s — men and women who’ve done hard time on long sentences and made progress in prison.

Cuomo used his clemency powers just 41 times. Even as COVID ripped through the state, he resisted calls to release more prisoners, granting a handful just before resigning.

Ulysses Boyd was one of them. He was convicted of felony murder in a 1986. Boyd said he is now fighting for the people he left behind in prison.

Boyd argues releasing older inmates who’ve turned their lives around is not just humane, it could help curb the current climate of violence in the city. He is now involved in mentorship and violence interrupter programs.

“We are ready to return and be citizens that can help inside the community to help with the violence out there with the young men because we come from that back room,” Boyd said.

Boyd hopes under Hochul’s leadership there will be more face-to-face time with inmates who might be good candidates for clemency. He thinks it will make the difference.

Several lawmakers also rallied, pledging to push for more funding for clemency evaluations.

“While we cannot comment on pending clemency applications as the process is confidential, Governor Hochul is committed to improving justice, fairness, and safety in the criminal justice system, and we are reviewing applications in that context,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to the governor.

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