Advocates for prison reform have made the case that certain individuals sentenced to long prison terms for taking a life should be eligible for some kind of clemency at some point.
The rationale behind permanent prison sentences is not always clear-cut.
Maybe a person convicted of murder was very young or running with a bad crowd or addicted to drugs at the time of their crime. Maybe they’ve done such good for others while serving their prison sentence that they’ve made themselves worthy of the opportunity to rejoin society. Maybe they’ve undergone such a mental, emotional or religious transformation that they simply are no longer the person they were when they committed that crime.
But certain people should never be given the chance at clemency.
One of them is David Gilbert.
Gilbert is serving 75 years to life in state prison for multiple counts of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car that resulted in the deaths of two downstate police officers and a Brinks guard.
Gilbert, then a member of the radical left-wing militant group the Weather Underground, was the getaway driver. He’s not eligible for parole until 2056.
But next month, he will be given a chance at parole and possible release 35 years early.
That’s because among his last acts as governor before he left office in disgrace, Gov. Andrew Cuomo granted clemency to Gilbert and four other convicted murderers.
Gilbert isn’t someone whose name Cuomo picked out of a hat. It so happens that Gilbert is the father of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who has lobbied hard to have his father released.
Cuomo noted that Gilbert was only the getaway driver, not the actual murderer, as if that somehow absolves him of responsibility for the three victims killed during the robbery.
Other supporters of Gilbert have cited his role in AIDs education and tutoring in prison as reasons for his early release. If all anyone had to do to get out of a murder rap halfway through his sentence was tutor and offer legal assistance to fellow inmates, there’d be a lot more teachers and lawyers in prison right now.
Family members of the victims are outraged at the decision, as should we all be.
Clemency should be reserved for people who have gone far above and beyond their crimes to live special lives and to do special things during their time in prison.
It shouldn’t be granted as a political favor or to make hay of a well-known crime.
And it certainly shouldn’t be granted so easily to someone involved in the killing of a police officer – a crime judged especially heinous by society because officers put their lives on the line to protect us all.
Cuomo did a lot of awful things in office.
But one of his last acts as governor may be among his worst.