December 22, 2015
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
New York State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
The Criminal Justice Section and the Civil Rights and Liberties Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association urge you to grant clemency to Judith Clark.On October 6, 1983, Ms. Clark was convicted on three counts of felony murder for her role as the getaway driver in the infamous Brink’s Robbery on October 21, 1981. Ms. Clark, a former radical communist and member of the Weather Underground Organization, refused to allow a criminal defense attorney to represent her at trial and as a result received the maximum sentence of 75-years-to-life.
Despite her role in the heinous crime, Ms. Clark deserves clemency because she is a completely different person than she was 34 years ago at the time of the Brink’s Robbery. Ms. Clark has accepted responsibility for the crime she committed and is completely rehabilitated.
Ms. Clark’s case highlights the problems of New York’s mandatory sentencing scheme. New York’s mandatory sentencing scheme requires lengthy sentences for felony crimes and ensures that many offenders remain imprisoned long after they pose any threat to society. More problematic, however, New York’s mandatory sentencing scheme is inflexible and does not provide for the possibility of early release based on a prisoner’s reformation or any other criteria.
Ms. Clark should no longer be incarcerated. Since she arrived at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in 1983, Ms. Clark has made extraordinary efforts to reform herself and improve the lives of her fellow prisoners. While at Bedford Hills, Ms. Clark took part in prison education programs and earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and then a master’s degree in psychology. After the government cut funding for prisoner tuition, Ms. Clark convinced several local colleges to offer affordable classes to prisoners. Ms. Clark also helped develop the AIDS Counseling and Education Program, which has been replicated in prisons throughout the country; and a Nursery Program, which teaches pre-natal and parenting classes to new mothers, and allows them to care for their babies in prison until they are 1 year old.
Ms. Clark is one of the longest serving prisoners at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. Ms. Clark is also one of the most deserving of clemency. In fact, Robert Dennison, a veteran parole officer and member of the Conservative Party who served as state parole board chairman under Gov. George E. Pataki, wrote a letter to Governor David A. Patterson in 2010 in which he called her, “the most worthy candidate for clemency that I’ve ever seen.”
Ms. Clark’s case also demonstrates our concerns about mass incarceration. After serving 32-years in prison, Ms. Clark is now 66 years old, poses no threat to public safety, and will clearly lead a productive life if released from prison. The reason Ms. Clark remains incarcerated is because New York’s mandatory sentencing scheme is motivated by the desire for punishment or retribution. Heightened recognition of mass incarceration has demonstrated the inherent unfairness and destructive consequences caused by systems of retributive justice. Mass incarceration also demonstrates the urgent need for New York to reform its sentencing scheme to allow prisoners to earn their release by proving they are truly remorseful for their crimes and that they have achieved full rehabilitation. Because Ms. Clark has proved that she is remorseful and that she has achieved full rehabilitation, we urge you to grant her clemency application.
Geoffrey Bickford and Rhonda Tomlinson,
Co-chairs, Criminal Justice Section of the New York County Lawyers Association
Elliot Dolby-Shields and Samuel B. Cohen,
Co-chairs, Civil Rights & Liberties Committee of the New York County Lawyers
- The views expressed herein are those of the Criminal Justice Section and the Civil Rights and Liberties Committee only, have not been approved by the New York County Lawyers Association Board of Directors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Board.
The Criminal Justice Section and the Civil Rights and Liberties Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association are comprised of attorneys from all aspects of the criminal justice system—including prosecutors, public defenders, private criminal defense attorneys, civil rights attorneys, judges and academics. Together, they examine important criminal justice and constitutional issues in New York to advocate for a more equitable justice system. That advocacy includes speaking on behalf of those who should no longer be incarcerated, such as Judith Clark.