John Mage: David Gilbert Should Be Free

The Nation | September 13, 2021

Given his perfect 40-year record, denial by the Parole Board would signal that prison is just about punishment and revenge.

Just a few minutes were left in Andrew Cuomo’s term as New York governor when he issued rare—but entirely appropriate clemencies—to 10 elder men who have served, collectively, hundreds of years in the state’s maximum-security prisons. Criminal justice reform activists have long urged state leaders to repair a system rooted in mass incarceration and inhumanly long sentences.

During his three terms, Cuomo did not make this kind of reform a policy priority. But with his last-minute clemencies, he did leave on a positive note. This was particularly significant given the failure of the state legislature to act on several prison and elder parole reform bills in this year’s session that had drawn considerable support from lawmakers and the public.

The 10 men who received a gubernatorial clemency each had strong records of constructive, peaceful, and meaningful rehabilitation in prison. Eight are Black or LatinX. All but one—David Gilbert—will now walk free. Gilbert must appear before the New York State Board of Parole. He turns 77 in less than a month and is entering his 41st year in prison for a felony murder conviction.

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