for an Immediate Response
Should Judith Clark be Paroled?
By Leon Friedman
On December 30, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo granted clemency to Judy Clark, one of the participants in the Brinks armed car robbery in 1981 in Nanuet N.Y. During the robbery two police officers and one Brinks guard were killed. Judy did not shoot anyone – the killings were all accomplished by the robbers who stole the money. But Judy drove a getaway car for one of the robbers.
There were six African-American robbers (and shooters) and four white getaway drivers involved in the project, called “the Big Dance” by the participants. Two of the African-American robbers are dead — one killed by the police in a shoot-out shortly after the robbery and another dying of AIDS in prison. Two others were tried for the same crimes in federal court, received lesser sentences, served their time and were released. Another robber (who drove in Judy’s getaway car) made a deal with the government, giving them helpful information in exchange for a lesser punishment. He is now in the witness protection program. The last robber, the brains behind the project, Mutulu Shakur, received a sixty year sentence in federal court, served 30 years and is now eligible for parole. Federal law seems to require parole at this point, but the federal authorities are resisting his release.
Of the four white getaway drivers, one, Kathy Boudin, pleaded guilty and received a sentence of twenty years, served that time and is now teaching at Columbia University. Another white participant, Marilyn Buck, went on to bomb the United States Senate in 1983, was arrested and convicted, served twenty five years, and died of cancer shortly after her release in 2010. The other two white getaway drivers were Judy and David Gilbert, Kathy Boudin’s partner. They were tried together, refused to cooperate in the proceedings so that they were not in court throughout the presentation of the prosecution’s case against them. They received sentences of 75 to life, 25 years for each of the three victims; the absolute maximum permissible sentence.
Why did these last two getaway drivers get heavier sentences than the actual robbers and shooters? It is certainly true that a getaway driver for a bank robber is considered equally guilty of any crime committed by the actual robber, including any murder committed in the course of the robbery. But in Judy’s (and David’s) case, their behavior in court – screaming that they were freedom fighters, shouting out political statements, refusing to participate in the proceedings – gave the judge a justification for the maximum penalty. He stated: “I harbor no illusions about any of the defendants. They hold society in contempt and have no respect for human life…. There is no reason to believe that any of the defendants will change despite the understandable hopes of their parents and families.” So the judge focused on the possibility of future crimes as opposed to the actual crimes that they were convicted of.
Indeed, in a similar situation, the getaway driver for a bank robber who killed a policeman in the course of a robbery, received a much lower sentence, when the driver showed remorse about the crime. Another radical, Katherine Ann Power, served six years in jail following her participation in a bank robbery in Boston, Massachusetts where a police officer was killed by an accomplice. Power was sitting in a getaway car, several blocks from the bank where the killing occurred, a situation almost identical to that of Judy. Power then went underground for 23 years and turned herself in 1993. She received a sentence of 8 to 12 years. While in prison, she obtained a bachelor’s degree and was a model prisoner, just like Judy. Power was released on parole after serving six years, in 1999.
Well, Judy did change, dramatically so, as Governor Cuomo announced when he granted clemency.
” While at Bedford Hills [Correctional Facility] , Clark has made exceptional strides in self- development. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree from Mercy College and has an extensive prison programming record including teaching pre-natal parenting courses in the Nursery Program, founding an HIV/AIDS education program, training service dogs in the Puppies Behind Bars program, and serving as a college tutor. Further, she has maintained a perfect disciplinary record and lives in honor housing.”
What are the standards that a parole board must consider in considering release of a prisoner, and does Judy meet those standards? The official parole board standards are found in published regulations: One regulation states that parole should be granted “if there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law . . . . [and the release] will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime as to undermine respect for the law.”
Judy meets that part of the standard. She has certainly come to realize the errors of her revolutionary ways and at 67 years of age will not return to that way of life. In an affidavit she prepared at an earlier stage of the proceedings, she stated:
“I began, literally, by making myself say their names out loud. Peter Paige. Edward O’Grady. Waverly Brown. Doing so dissolved the protective fog I had maintained with abstractions and slogans about “casualties of war.” These men had not been soldiers going into battle that day. Each was a working man who had gotten up that fateful morning, kissed his wife and children goodbye, and gone to work like they did every day with no reason to believe that they would not be home for dinner.”
People who have come to know Judy also write of her remorse. Sister Elaine Roulet, the former director and founder of the Children’s Center at Bedford, as well as the former Chaplain at Bedford (she is now retired), wrote: “In all my dealings (and there were many) I watched Judy not only touch remorse, but embrace it, own it, and carry it with her every day.” Elaine Lord, former Superintendent of the Bedford Hills prison, writes: “Over many years, I watched her change into one of the most perceptive, thoughtful, helpful and profound human beings that I have ever known either inside or outside of a prison.”
The parole board standards also focus on the prisoner’s “institutional record, including program goals and accomplishments [and] academic achievements,” as well as the prisoner’s release plans,
Judy certainly meets these requirements. In prison she participated in a series of constructive programs, as Governor Cuomo recited. She helped to rebuild a prison college program when public funding was eliminated in the 1990s. She worked in a parenting program in the prison, helping imprisoned mothers build responsible relationships with their children. Judy helped to found an AIDS Counseling and Education (ACE) program to address the impact of the AIDS epidemic at Bedford Hills. Judy has been one of the longest and most dedicated members of the Puppies Behind Bars program at Bedford Hills, a program that raises and trains puppies to become guide dogs for the blind, explosive detection dogs for law enforcement agencies, and service dogs for disabled people, primarily veterans. Judy has immersed herself in religious studies and Clinical Pastoral Education, becoming the first prisoner ever to earn certification as a Chaplain. She also published numerous scholarly articles in many educational journals. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and The New Yorker. She also won the 1995 PEN Prison Poetry Writing Award.
As far as release plans are concerned, Judy is planning to work at Hour Children, a Catholic Charity that cares for and houses the children of imprisoned women in New York. She is also planning to work on a community based medical care facility in underserved communities.
In every aspect of her life, Judy has shown that she has turned away from the destructive life that led to the original crimes and has forged a constructive life that she wishes to continue when she is released.
Leon Friedman is a professor of Constitutional Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra. He represented Judith Clark in a habeas corpus proceeding after her conviction.
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