New York and North Carolina are still the only two states in the country where 16 and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults, despite Governor Cuomo's endorsement of the Raise The Age Bill—legislation that was stymied by Republicans during the last session.
But while legislation aimed at ebbing the steady flow of New Yorkers into one of the largest prison systems in the country falters, a new program announced over the weekend will aim to grant pardons to thousands of youthful offenders originally convicted of nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors—drug-related crimes, as well as bribery, arson, trespass, and reckless endangerment, among others.
The Governor's announcement bucks a very conservative trend in New York. The NY Times points out that Cuomo has only issued nine pardons to convicted criminals over the course of his five years in office, four of which were announced in October. And since 2006, NY governors have granted clemency to less than 100 people.
Cuomo's office estimates that as many as 10,000 New Yorkers will qualify for an official pardon from the governor, one that will open up access to housing and jobs with strict policies regarding criminal records—jobs at schools, security companies, and nursing homes, for example. Applicants will still have to check the box indicating a previous conviction, but will provide potential employers with formal paperwork with Cuomo's signature.
The program, accessible through an online application, is not without restrictions—New Yorkers who don't pay taxes will be excluded, for example. A more arbitrary vetting system will also be applied to all applicants—according to the state's clemency website, applicants must be a "productive member of your community."
Still, some advocacy groups that represent the rights of minors within the criminal justice system are pleased with Cuomo's recent decision to invest political capital in the idea of clemency.
"Reducing collateral consequences for young adults who served their time and have become law abiding citizens is critical for ensuring access to education and employment as well as housing options," said Melanie Hartzog, Director of the Childrens’ Defense Fund, in a statement.
New York's prison population, 52,673 as of this September, is made up primarily of violent offenders who would not qualify for Cuomo's clemency program. As of January 2014, just 12% [PDF] of inmates had committed drug offenses, and another 12.7% had been convicted of property crimes.