The following statement can be attributed to Denise Maes, ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director.
This afternoon, Governor Jared Polis announced that he is exercising his clemency power to release four people from prison who deserve a second chance. We know these releases mean a great deal to these four families, and we are celebrating with them. In granting clemency as he has done, Governor Polis leads Colorado in a small step toward redemption and compassion.
We note that many of the petitions the Governor acted on today have been on his desk for months awaiting action. This includes the petition of Mr. Anthony Martinez, an 84-year old grandfather who suffers from dementia, renal failure and relies on a wheelchair to get around. Mr. Martinez is not a public safety risk and should have been granted clemency long ago. There are also hundreds like Mr. Martinez who can be safely released from our prisons but are left behind in the Governor’s action.
COVID-19 is spreading unabated in Colorado prisons. More than 6,800 people have tested positive for the disease, over 40% of the population has been infected, and a new death is announced every few days. Other Governors are meeting this moment by releasing thousands and yet our Governor releases four, a far cry from what is needed and a far cry from those deserving the mercy and compassion of which the Governor speaks. There are simply way too many people left behind.
Our incarceration system is massive, brutal and suffers greatly from racial inequities. Clemency is the only real corrective check on this unjust system and can only be exercised by the Governor. But for clemency to be an effective check it must be constantly and consistently applied. Once a year during the holidays is not enough. Four people are too few. We urge the Governor to use this corrective power more frequently and to take seriously every petition that lands on his desk in a timely fashion. You, Governor, have the power to define what redemption, mercy and compassion look like. Be bold and do the right thing. Redemption is real, and so is compassion.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.