Editorial: Release details of pardons

Public has a right to know who and why criminals are getting special treatment from governor
Governor Andrew Cuomo
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Governor Andrew Cuomo

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

If the governor of the state is handing out pardons and commuting criminal sentences, it seems he should let the rest of us in on who these people are and what precipitated this altruism. 

In the past couple of years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has gone kind of pardon-crazy, issuing hundreds of conditional pardons to individuals on parole from their prison sentences in order to give them the legal ability to vote. He’s also handed out at least 140 “youth pardons” to adults who committed crimes as teenagers.

They were convicted as adults, but weren’t granted youthful offender status at the time.

We don’t have a problem granting parolees the right to vote. Restoring the right to vote helps individuals better assimilate back into society.

We also have no problem if the governor wants to exercise his constitutional power to grant pardons or commute the sentences of deserving individuals who committed relatively minor crimes as youths. If the voters don’t like who he pardons or how often he does it, they can show it at the voting booth.

What we do have a problem with is his keeping the names of the individuals, along with the justification used in granting the pardons and commutations, a secret from the public. 

The public has a right to evaluate these pardons on their merits and to ensure the governor isn’t granting special favors to political donors, business associates, and friends and family members.

So far, the governor has been stingy with releasing the names of those he pardons and his reasons for doing so. The Albany Times-Union has been aggressively pursuing the information, with limited success.

A new bill pending in the Senate (S9135) would address the secrecy issue by requiring the governor provide a report to the state Legislature every 30 days on all of his pardons, sentence-commutations and reprieves.

The report would have to contain the name, the crime, the sentence and the “standards or criteria” used by the governor to grant such favor.

We would add that the legislation should require the information be made public when it’s submitted.

By refusing to release information about his pardons, Gov. Cuomo has given political opponents a chance to call him out on being soft on crime.

Senate Republicans announced Monday they’re planning hearings on the governor’s use of pardons and on the state parole board’s alleged leniency in the recent release of certain high-profile violent prisoners. While this is clearly political opportunism in an election year, the hearings are legitimate.

New Yorkers must have a way to ensure that they’re being protected from criminals being pardoned or released indiscriminately and before their time.

Making the decisions more transparent will go a long way to that end.

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