Pubdate: Fri, 28 Dec 2007
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2007 The Buffalo News
Author: Anthony Papa
Note: Anthony Papa is the author of "15 to Life"and a communications 
specialist for theDrug Policy Alliance.
Bookmark: (Clemency - United States)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's approval rating is at an all-time low of 36 
percent, according to a survey by the Siena College Research 
Institute. This is a far cry from his 69 percent approval rating when 
he took office. The survey polled about 1,000 voters in December, of 
which 47 percent said the governor should become a "kinder, gentler 
governor." But 41 percent of Republicans said they doubt whether the 
transformation can be made.

The question I pose is: "How can Spitzer counter his downward spiral 
and start winning back the voters of New York State?" One answer is 
to show the citizens of New York that, despite the negativity 
generated from the trials and tribulations of his governorship, he is 
still an individual who shows compassion for others. Compassion, a 
virtue found in many great leaders, is said to be not sentiment but 
the act of making justice through works of mercy.

This holiday season, I recommend that Spitzer go on a personal rescue 
mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of 
Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated 
themselves and already have served large amounts of time behind bars 
under the draconian provisions of mandatory minimum sentencing.

In granting a record number of clemencies, Spitzer would be following 
in the wake of recent trends that favor reducing racial disparities 
precipitated by the War on Drugs. Earlier this month, the Supreme 
Court returned to judges their discretion over following the rigid 
structure of federal sentencing guidelines in drug cases, and the 
U.S. Sentencing Commission created changes in crack cocaine 
sentencing that would retroactively set free 20,000 prisoners.

Traditionally, at Christmas time New York's governor grants executive 
clemency to a number of individuals. Former Republican Gov. George E. 
Pataki granted 32 in his career, with 28 of them being Rockefeller 
Drug Law prisoners (point of disclosure: I was one of them). Gov. 
Mario Cuomo granted 33 and Gov. Hugh Carey gave out 155.

If granted clemency, a prisoner immediately becomes eligible for 
parole. Although parole is not guaranteed, the New York State Parole 
Board has released the majority of prisoners whose sentences were commuted.

Today there are almost 14,000 individuals imprisoned under the 
Rockefeller Drug Laws; 90 percent of them are black and Latino. 
Despite two minor reforms in 2004 and 2005, a welcomed first step, 
the majority of Rockefeller prisoners were not touched by the 
changes. For many who have fallen through the cracks, their only hope 
to regain their freedom is through the act of executive clemency.

There will be many families praying this holiday season that Spitzer 
shows his compassion for those who have taken it upon themselves to 
improve their lives and are ready to re-enter society as productive citizens.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake