This story was published in partnership with The Appeal.
A group of New York state senators is urging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to commute the prison sentence of Reginald Randolph, a 58-year-old visually impaired man who was sentenced to two to four years in state prison for stealing cold medicine. Since his arrest in 2018, Randolph spent a total of more than 800 days incarcerated in the city jail at Rikers Island. Last month, he was transferred to state prison. New York Focus and The Appeal first reported on Randolph’s case in November.
In a letter sent to the governor’s office on Thursday, Senators Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), and Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) warned that Randolph’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and that he could die if his sentence is not commuted.
“In commuting Mr. Randolph’s sentence and allowing him to avoid the possibility of serious illness, medical decline, and possibly death in our state prison system, you will be acknowledging that Reginald Randolph’s life matters,” the three state senators wrote in the letter, which was exclusively shared with New York Focus and The Appeal.
Last month, a spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office told New York Focus and The Appeal that they do not oppose Randolph’s clemency petition and have communicated that to Joshua Norkin, the governor’s assistant counsel for housing and civil rights.
“While we cannot comment on pending clemency applications as the process is confidential, Governor Hochul is committed to improving justice, fairness, and safety in the criminal justice system, and we are reviewing applications in that context,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, the governor’s press secretary, in a statement to New York Focus and The Appeal.
Randolph is blind in one eye and losing his vision in the other. In addition to his vision problems, Randolph has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, polysubstance use disorder, and schizoaffective disorder.
If the governor grants Randolph’s clemency petition, he will be able to move into a transitional supportive housing program and then into long-term housing with wraparound services, according to Randolph’s attorney with the Legal Aid Society. Randolph’s legal team has also secured intensive outpatient mental health and substance dependence treatment, as well as medication management services.
The governor can either return Randolph to the “care of his community or she can continue to deny a man with a disability a chance to access healthcare,” Senator Ramos said in a statement to New York Focus and The Appeal. “I hope Governor Hochul makes the right decision and grants him clemency soon.”
Randolph has struggled with mental illness and poverty for much of his life. He left school after the eighth grade, and by 19, he was using cocaine, LSD, and PCP. Since his mother’s death in 2001, Randolph has been suffering from chronic homelessness. He has primarily received mental health care while incarcerated or at emergency rooms.
“Mr. Randolph needs treatment and assistance as he deals with his addiction and medical conditions, which is why I am urging the Governor to strongly consider his request for clemency,” Senator Rivera said in a statement to New York Focus and The Appeal.
By the time Randolph was arrested for stealing cold medicine in 2018, he’d been convicted of more than 50 misdemeanors and a handful of felonies, the most recent in 2005 for attempted robbery and sale of a controlled substance.
“[Shoplifting] was just to support my addiction and to deal with my homelessness, deal with my poverty,” Randolph told New York Focus and The Appeal in October, in a phone call from the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City.
Following his 2018 arrest for taking dozens of bottles of cold medicine from two Duane Reade stores,. Tthe DA bumped up his charge from a misdemeanor to a felony—two counts of third-degree burglary—because Randolph had a “no trespass” order that banned him from the convenience store.
In their letter, the legislators called Randolph’s prosecution “extraordinarily abusive,” and noted that “the prosecutor was not required to enhance his charges.”
Randolph spent more than a year on Rikers Island waiting for his case to be resolved. In August 2019, he was finally accepted into Manhattan Drug Court and released from jail. But when he was unable to complete the treatment programs, he was sent back to Rikers. Then, on August 12, 2021, Randolph went before Criminal Court Judge Cori Weston—herself a former public defender—for sentencing.
At the time of sentencing, Randolph was on crutches. His attorney told the court that he had slipped and fallen in the shower at Rikers due to his vision problems, according to a transcript of the proceedings. Randolph spoke briefly; he thanked the judge and his attorneys.
Weston then sentenced him to two to four years in state prison.
“Mr. Randolph, I hope that you feel better, and I hope that you can get some help in prison,” Weston told him. “I know that you have done a substantial amount of time, so I hope that while you are still there, you can get some help for your drug problem, and that when you get out, you can do well.”
Clemency and Rehabilitation
In September, the Legal Aid Society, which represents Randolph, submitted a clemency petition to the Executive Clemency Bureau, which conducts a preliminary review of applications before sending them to the governor.
In its petition, Legal Aid requested that Hochul grant Randolph emergency clemency and a full sentence commutation so he could be immediately released to The Redemption Center, a supportive housing program for formerly incarcerated people. At the time the petition was submitted, Randolph was still on Rikers Island, awaiting a transfer to state prison to begin his sentence.
On Nov. 23, with no word from the governor, Randolph was taken to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York. During the bus ride, his feet and hands were shackled, and a black box kept his hands in the front so he couldn’t move them, according to Jeffrey Berman, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society and counsel for Randolph. When Randolph arrived at the prison, the “walking device” he had used at Rikers was reportedly confiscated from him.
Randolph feels his vision is getting worse and said he puts his hands out when he’s walking to make sure he doesn’t bump into anything, according to Berman who has remained in communication with Randolph. Randolph was not available for an interview with New York Focus and The Appeal.
Hochul, who took office in August, has never used her clemency powers. (She did issue a pardon the day after Randolph was sent to state prison, but it was of a turkey.) During his more than 10 years in office, Governor Andrew Cuomo granted 41 clemency petitions.
“Further incarcerating Reggie puts him at risk of eventual homelessness and does nothing to further public safety,” Berman said in a statement to New York Focus and The Appeal. “We call on Governor Hochul to grant Reggie clemency so that he can be released to a community that is ready to care for and support him now.”
Read the full letter below: