Our Mission

The Second Look Project works with organizations and advocates to end mass incarceration. The project creates partnerships and cultivates leaders in the field of decarceration to drive action through clemency, parole, compassionate release, resentencing motions, legislative remedies, and grassroots community-based movements.

In 2015, CUNY School of Law Professor Steve Zeidman, Co-Director of the Defenders Clinic, received an email from a lawyer working with Judy Clark. Ms. Clark was serving a sentence of 75-years to life for her role as the getaway driver in the 1981 Brinks robbery that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks guard. The email, which was sent to many criminal law professors, asked if anyone would be ready, willing, and able to to take on Ms. Clark’s quest for clemency from then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. Zeidman and his team at CUNY School of Law Defenders Clinic volunteered to assist Ms. Clark, and met with her at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. After that meeting, Ms. Clark and the Defenders Clinic team agreed to work together in pursuit of clemency.

As the team prepared a clemency application, it soon became apparent that there were no legal organizations devoted to clemency advocacy on behalf of people serving life and long-term sentences. In New York State alone, approximately 9,000 people are serving life sentences and face the very real prospect of dying in prison. While there are various Innocence Projects for people seeking to prove that they were wrongly convicted, and there are several appellate organizations that assist people with legal challenges to their convictions, there was no organization that worked to free people who were trying to extricate themselves from the massive sentences that are routinely meted out in American courts (and that are unknown to any other western industrialized nation). From this vast need, the Second Look Project: Beyond Guilt was born.

Zeidman and the Clinic were able to win clemency for Ms. Clark in 2016 and as a result word of the Defenders Clinic clemency work spread across New York prisons. To date, the Clinic has received over 2,300 requests for assistance from people inside and their families. In just the past few years the Clinic has worked with almost 150 people facing what has been called “death by incarceration,” and has helped 55 come home via clemency, parole, and various litigation efforts. In his last week in office, former Governor Andrew Cuomo commuted the sentences of ten people — seven were clients of the Second Look Project: Beyond Guilt.

Our Staff

The work of the Second Look Project would not be possible without the efforts and passion of its staff, partners, and advisory board.


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