In a move that's intended to make finding jobs, housing, and access to social support easier for thousands of New Yorkers, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that he will grant clemencies to people who were convicted of non-violent felonies when they were teenagers.
To qualify for the pardons, people must have no new convictions for 10 years since their original sentencing. This won't mean that criminal records will be cleared—just that they would have paper work to show that they have been pardoned.
“It’s a way to help people get on with their life,” Cuomo told the New York Times. “When you’re young you can make a mistake, and maybe you don’t have to carry the burden for your entire life.” The Times reported that 10,000 people could be immediately eligible for the pardons.
In New York state, activists have been lobbying to raise the age of criminal responsibility (when people are considered capable of making and being responsible for adult decisions) from 16 to at least 18. New York is currently one of the only states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and sends them to adult prisons. In January, a report commissioned by Cuomo recommended that the age be raised to 18—soon after, a Raise the Age bill failed to pass in the New York state senate.
It's an issue that's been in the public eye since 22-year-old Kalief Browder, who spent three years imprisoned at Rikers Island from when he was 16 years old, died of suicide late last year. His lawyers said the time he spent in adult prison at Rikers awaiting trial left him traumatized and unable to re-adjust to life outside prison.
Browder was never convicted, and the charges against him were dropped. For the 800 or so 16- and 17-year-olds in jails and prisons in New York state, building a life after spending time in adult facilities is difficult, not only because of trauma, but also because it's harder to find employment and housing with a criminal record.
President Obama, on a national scale, is attempting to at least ease barriers to employment: last month he issued an executive order that federal government employers must not ask about an applicant's criminal record in the first round of job applications. In theory, that gives people a better chance at being hired on their merits and staying out of the prison system. Cuomo's move is also in line with Obama's recent round of 184 clemencies for first-time, non-violent offenders.