The beginning of 2017 brought with it more than just the start of a new year for more than 100 New Yorkers. It also brought the chance at a fresh start as Governor Andrew M. Cuomo granted them conditional pardons for crimes they committed while they were minors.
In December 2015, Governor Cuomo had announced the first-in-the-nation program which would grant pardons to people who were convicted of non-violent crimes as minors and had lived a crime-free life for at least a decade.
Minors convicted of sex crimes do not qualify. Also, if a person receives a pardon but is then convicted of a crime, the pardon can be removed.
The goal of the program is to give people who made mistakes in their youth, but who have lived a crime-free life for at least10 years, a way of removing the stigma and the barriers that conviction can cause.
When the governor announced the program, it was estimated that more than 10,000 people could benefit from clemency. So far, approximately 260 people have applied for pardons.
Many people convicted of crimes often have a difficult time finding employment, getting admitted to schools, obtaining housing, and applying for professional licenses. People who apply for the program are required to go through an intense screening process. They must meet the following conditions:
- The applicant must have been between 16 to 17 years old at the time they committed the crime they were convicted of.
- It must be at least 10 years since the criminal conviction or release from incarceration;
- There must not have been any other criminal convictions during that time;
- The crime the applicant was convicted of must have been a non-violent felony or misdemeanor;
- The applicant must be a tax-paying current resident of the state of New York; and
- The applicant must be either working, seeking employment, or attending school. Otherwise, they must have a legitimate reason why they are unable to be employed.
In some cases, the state itself has reached determined people who may eligible for the clemency program and have notified them.
The clemency program is one part of the governor’s raise the age agenda, as well as other criminal justice reforms in the state of New York. The state is only one of two in the country (the other being North Carolina) which automatically charges, prosecutes, and incarcerates 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
These youth are placed in adult jails and prisons, with adult offenders. According to current statistics, more than 85 percent of these young people have been charged or convicted of non-violent crimes.
The governor is pushing to raise the age a juvenile can be charged as an adult and cites multiple studies which show that this will lower crime and recidivism rates, as well as save the state money.
Juveniles who are treated as adults in the criminal justice system are 25 percent more likely to be reincarcerated than juveniles who are processed through the juvenile criminal justice system.
Attorney Brian Leifert noted the clemency program is a good step in helping people get their lives back on track. “Due to their immaturity and lack of judgment skills, teens make mistakes and bad choices. That one mistake shouldn’t be held against someone for the rest of their lives.”