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Sentencing: New York Senate to Address Rockefeller Drug Law Reform in Budget -- Meanwhile, Another Damning Study Appears

The New York Assembly passed a Rockefeller drug law reform bill last Wednesday, with the state Senate expected to take action shortly. But last Friday, the Senate's Democratic leaders decided to fold their version of the bill into their larger budget proposals, which will be taken up later this month.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
According to the Albany Times-Union, Senate Democrats, who control the chamber by a margin of 32 to 30, want to avoid being tagged as "soft on crime" by their Republican counterparts. With the Senate version of the Rockefeller reform bill submerged within the broader budget bills, senators will not have to actually stand up and vote for the reforms, just for the overall budget package.

"Our position is these bills should be taken up on the merits and not folded into a budget bill," said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif, whose party would like to see Democrats forced to vote for "freeing drug dealers."

"It's clear that it's as much of a budget issue as it is a sentencing issue," said Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran, noting that imprisoning people or subjecting them to drug treatment both have financial costs. He denied that Democrats took this route because they lacked the votes to pass Rockefeller reform on its own.

While the politicians in Albany are dancing around each other, yet another report has been released demonstrating the disastrous impact more than three decades of Rockefeller drug laws has had on the state. The report, "Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective," was produced by the New York Civil Liberties Union and examines the economic and social impact of the Rockefeller laws on the state as a whole and on its largest cities: Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse.

In a demographic analysis of who is sent to prison and for what in New York, the report found huge racial and geographic disparities. In New York City, for example, neighborhoods with just 4% of the city's adult population accounted for 25% of those sent to prison. More than half of those sent up the river went on drug charges, and 97% were non-white. Similar numbers come in for other big Empire State cities.

"New York's drug sentencing laws are the Jim Crow laws of the 21st Century," said Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director and the report's lead author. "Prosecution of drug offenses has sent hundreds of thousands to prison, most of whom were charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses. The Rockefeller drug laws have been a driving force in incarcerating a prison population that is almost exclusively black and brown."

"The Rockefeller drug laws have failed by every measure. They tear apart families, waste tax dollars and create shocking racial disparities," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Yet, after 36 years of failure, our state continues locking up the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Justice and common sense require comprehensive reform."

The report makes several recommendations for reform, including:

  • Reduce sentences for those convicted of drug-related crimes.
  • Restore judicial discretion and end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
  • Develop and invest in a statewide alternative to incarceration model to provide supervised treatment, education and employment training for those who would be better served by diversion than by prison.
  • Provide retroactive sentencing relief for those already incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws.

"Faced with a major recession and a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, New York cannot afford to waste hundreds of millions of dollars locking up nonviolent drug offenders," Lieberman said. "Money saved through reforming the drug-sentencing laws could be spent helping struggling New Yorkers get back on their feet."

The Assembly has done its duty. Now it is up to the state Senate and Gov. David Patterson (D) to come up with a real reform bill at least as good as the Assembly's.

NBC Insults Marijuana Users

Once again, we find the press struggling to cover drug policy reform without resorting to derogatory epithets:

State Moves Toward Lighter Sentences for Potheads
By Scott Ross

The state Assembly has struck a blow for the state's stoners by voting to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws that have threatened so many tokers with the wrong kind of joint. [NBCNewYork.com]

This is really an achievement in childish drug reporting in that it not only sounds ridiculous, it actually renders the story utterly frivolous and misleading. Marijuana arrests are a problem in New York to be sure, but simple possession is technically decriminalized already. Rockefeller reform is primarily not about marijuana at all. It's about reforming wildly draconian sentencing guidelines for a variety of drug offenses. Framing it as a marijuana policy reform is just wrong. Many of the worst excesses of the Rockefeller laws have nothing at all to do with marijuana.

Sadly, it looks as though the author loved his dumb headline so much, he destroyed the entire story just so he could use it. It's pure journalistic malpractice.

Please take a moment to click over there and leave a polite comment.

Press Release: NYCLU Announces Findings about Statewide Impact of Rockefeller Drug Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2009 CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig at 212.607.3363 or jcarnig@nyclu.org NYCLU Announces Findings about Statewide Impact of Rockefeller Drug Laws March 11, 2009 – The New York Civil Liberties today released a detailed report illustrating the disastrous effects the Rockefeller Drug Laws have inflicted on New York State. The report analyzes the drug laws’ economic and social impact on the entire state, and its largest cities: Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse. The report – The Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective – presents overwhelming evidence that New York’s mandatory minimum drug-sentencing scheme has failed to improve public safety or deter drug use. It documents the grave harm the drug laws cause to low-income communities of color, and it calls on lawmakers to adopt a public health approach to addressing substance abuse. “The Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed by every measure. They tear apart families, waste tax dollars and create shocking racial disparities,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Yet, after 36 years of failure, our state continues locking up the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Justice and common sense require comprehensive reform.” Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment. The mass incarceration of drug offenders rips parents away from children. As of 2002, an estimated 11,000 people incarcerated for drug offenses, including 1,000 women, were parents of young children. Close to 25,000 children in New York State had parents in prison convicted of nonviolent drug charges. Some 50 percent of mothers and fathers in prison for drug convictions did not receive visits from their children. Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the state’s drug sentencing scheme remains intact. These laws deny judges the authority to place people suffering from addiction, mental health issues and homelessness into treatment programs. For decades, the NYCLU, criminal justice advocates and medical experts have fought to untie the hands of judges and allow addiction to be treated as a public health matter. As noted in the New York State Sentencing Commission’s recent report, sentencing non-violent drug offenders to prison is ineffective and counterproductive, and has resulted in unconscionable racial disparities: Blacks and Latinos comprise more than 90 percent of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies, though government research shows that most people using illegal drugs are white. “New York’s drug sentencing laws are the Jim Crow laws of the 21st Century,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director and the report’s lead author. “Prosecution of drug offenses has sent hundreds of thousands to prison, most of whom were charged with low-level, non-violent offenses. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have been a driving force in incarcerating a prison population that is almost exclusively black and brown.” The report features demographic maps created by the Justice Mapping Center that analyze who is sent to prison for drug offenses from the state’s five largest cities: Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse. The maps depict the racial and ethnic bias inherent in the state’s drug policy and illustrate the exorbitant cost of locking up drug offenders. For example, 25 percent of adults in New York City sent to prison in 2006 came from neighborhoods with just 4 percent of the city’s adult population. More than half were admitted for drug offenses, and 97 percent were black or Latino. In Buffalo, 25 percent of adults sent to prison come from areas with just 6 percent of the city’s adult population. One in four is admitted for drug offenses and 91 percent are black or Latino. The maps also show the enormous cost of combating drug-related crime through massive incarceration. For example, taxpayers spent more than $27.5 million to imprison Rochester residents convicted of drug offenses in 2006, and another $21 million to imprison Albany residents convicted of drug offenses that year. More than $440 million was spent to incarcerate New York City residents sent to prison in 2006 for drug offenses. Based on estimates calculated by the state Commission on Sentencing Reform, taxpayers will pay about $600 million to incarcerate drug offenders in 2009 alone. “Faced with a major recession and a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, New York cannot afford to waste hundreds of millions of dollars locking up nonviolent drug offenders,” Lieberman said. “Money saved through reforming the drug-sentencing laws could be spent helping struggling New Yorkers get back on their feet.” The report makes several recommendations for reform, including: • Reduce sentences for those convicted of drug-related crimes. • Restore judicial discretion and end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. • Develop and invest in a statewide alternative to incarceration model to provide supervised treatment, education and employment training for those who would be better served by diversion than by prison. • Provide retroactive sentencing relief for those already incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. “Imprisonment for drug-related crimes should be the last resort, reserved for truly violent offenders,” Perry said. “Adopting a public health model to address the problems related to substance abuse will not only save taxpayers money, it will move the state toward a more fair and effective strategies for promoting justice and public safety.” To read or download a copy of the report – including the maps – visit www.nyclu.org/rockefeller-report. -xxx-
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Press Advisory: NYCLU to Announce New Findings about Statewide Impact of Rockefeller Drug Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 10, 2009 – Tomorrow, the New York Civil Liberties Union will release a detailed report analyzing the effects of the Rockefeller Drug Laws on New York State. The report studies incarceration patterns in terms of their economic and social impact on the entire state, as well as on its biggest cities: Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse.

The report – The Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective – presents overwhelming evidence that New York’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing scheme has failed on all fronts. The laws have not made New York State safer, nor have they reduced the availability of drugs or deterred their use.

It also presents provocative new maps created by the Justice Mapping Center that analyze every major urban center in the state, illustrating who goes to prison for drug offenses, where they lived before imprisonment and what it costs to lock them up.

The NYCLU will hold a media briefing in Albany to walk journalists through the report’s findings and recommendations for reform. Reporters statewide are invited to call a toll-free number to listen and ask questions.

What:

Media briefing about new report, The Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective

When:

11 a.m. Wednesday, March 11

Where:

Marsh, Wassermann & McHugh, 677 Broadway, Albany. Free garage parking.

OR 1-800-351-6809, passcode 63087

Who:

  • Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director and author of the report
  • Jeff Aubry, Assembly Member, chair of Committee on Correction and lead sponsor of just passed Rockefeller reform legislation
  • John Dunne, Republican New York State senator from 1966 to 1989 and original sponsor of the Rockefeller Drug Laws
  • Eric Cadora, director of the Justice Mapping Center and creator of drug incarceration maps of Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse and New York State
  • Marsha Weissman, executive director of the Center for Community Alternatives
  • Todd Clear, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College
  • Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, vice president of health policy for the New York Academy of Medicine

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Location: 
Albany, NY
United States

Incarceration: Too Many Americans Behind Bars at Too High a Cost, Says Pew Study

American states spent about $52 billion on corrections last year, the vast majority of it on prisons, and that's not smart, the Pew Center on the States said in a report released Monday. As a cost saving measure in a time of fiscal crisis at the statehouses, states should instead emphasize spending on community corrections.

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overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (cdcr.ca.gov)
The study, 1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, reported that one in every 31 Americans is in jail or prison or on probation or parole. That's more than 7 million people under state supervision, and that's more than double the rate 25 years ago. The report adds that the real figure may be closer to 8 million because the numbers don't include people under state supervision in pre-trial diversion programs, such as drug courts.

The rates of correctional control vary by race and geography. One in eleven black adults (9.2%) are enjoying the tender mercies of the state, compared to one in 27 Hispanics (3.7%) and one in 45 whites (2.2%). With one of every 13 adults behind bars or on probation or parole, Georgia has the highest percentage of its population under surveillance, followed by Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio, and the District of Columbia.

"Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost," said Adam Gelb, director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report.

But while prisons account for about 90% of the overall correction budget in the states, two-thirds of offenders are on probation or parole, not behind bars. Pressures to cut community corrections spending in the current crisis are penny wise but pound foolish, said the report.

"New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back," Gelb argued. "Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment."

The study recommended that states:

  • Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
  • Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
  • Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
  • Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
  • Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance.

The report did not address the role of drug prohibition in swelling the nation's prison population, nor did it question whether drug offenders should be arrested in the first place, let alone placed under state surveillance or imprisoned.

Feature: New York Assembly Passes Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Bill -- Fight Moves to the Senate

The New York Assembly Wednesday passed a bill that would repeal much of the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Enacted in 1973 under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R), the laws are some of the toughest in the nation and have served as a model for "tough on crime" legislation across the country in the years since then.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
By a vote of 96-46, the Assembly approved A 6085, which restores judges' discretion in sentencing low level drug offenders by gutting provisions in the law that require prosecutors to approve a judge's decision to divert someone from prison to drug treatment. The bill would also expand the state's drug court system by authorizing one for each county in the state. The bill contains provisions denying probation or local jail sentences to adults selling drugs to minors, dealers who deal while armed, and "drug kingpins."

Now, all eyes turn to the state Senate, where an identical bill has been introduced. Complicating matters is that the New York State Sentencing Commission last month released its own, much less reformist recommendations, which are supposed to be Gov. David Paterson's (D) guide to reform legislation. The governor is not bound by the commission majority's recommendations, but it is not clear yet just what Paterson will do.

Thanks to the Rockefeller laws -- and despite reforms in 2004 and 2005 that had no impact on less serious offenders imprisoned under them -- nearly 12,000 people are currently behind bars for drugs in New York. Even after the 2004-2005 tinkering, the state prison system continues to be flooded with new Rockefeller law victims. More than 5,000 people were sent to prison for nonviolent drug offenses last year.

More than 42% of Rockefeller law prisoners -- more than 5,000 people -- are doing hard time for simple drug possession, many of them convicted of the lowest level drug felonies, which involve only small amounts of drugs. For instance, a half-gram of cocaine can earn a Class D felony charge. As of last month, 1,098 people were imprisoned for that offense.

The mass imprisonment of drug offenders comes at a substantial cost to Empire State taxpayers. According to the Correctional Association of New York, the state spends $525 million a year to incarcerate drug offenders and has spent $1.5 billion on building prisons to house them.

"More than 35 years after the Rockefeller drug laws were enacted, it is clear that these laws mandating imprisonment for even lower-level offenders have failed to effectively combat drug abuse or reduce the incidence of violent crime," said Assembly leader Rep. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) before the vote Wednesday. "This legislation restores humanity to drug policy here in New York. It expands the sentencing options available to judges, without endangering the public. Judges are in the best position to know who is deserving of prison and who is not. State prison and mandatory prison sentences are not the magic bullets to address drug abuse and its attendant problems; restoring judicial discretion is the solution."

"These reforms are long overdue," said Rep. Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Queens), the primary sponsor of the bill. "This legislation provides for a more sensible, comprehensive and cost-effective approach for dealing with lower-level drug offenders and addicts. Think of all the resources that have been spent on locking-up nonviolent drug offenders that could have been invested in the education, rehabilitation and job training that can save lives. Treatment programs in New York City have a ten percent recidivism rate for participants one year after completion, compared to 60 to 70% for those not in programs. Treatment works."

Activists who have spent years trying to make the legislature pay heed to calls for Rockefeller law reform -- or outright repeal -- pronounced themselves pleased with the Assembly vote. But while there was agreement that the bill contained significant reforms, some said it did not go far enough.

"With everyone from the Sentencing Commission to the governor talking about reforming the Rockefeller drug laws, it's critical to examine any proposal and make sure it constitutes real reform," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance. "To be real, meaningful reform, any proposal must include restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases; expansion of alternative-to-incarceration programs and community based drug treatment; fair and equitable sentencing reforms; and retroactive sentencing relief for people serving unjust sentences under the Rockefeller drug laws. The Assembly has included these provisions, and their proposal constitutes real reform."

"New York State is closer to justice today than we were yesterday," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "By passing this bill, our state's Assembly is letting go of 36 years of failure and moving toward meaningful reform of the Rockefeller drug laws."

"The Rockefeller drug laws have failed by every measure -- cost, drug use, public safety," added the group's legislative director, Robert Perry. "With the passage of Jeff Aubrey's bill, the Assembly has acted on Governor Paterson's directive to fundamentally reform the state's failed drug policy. The bill shifts the paradigm, away from mass incarceration and toward a public health model."

But the NYCLU also said that "in certain essential respects, the Assembly proposal does not fully realize the reform principles on which the legislation is based." It listed several examples:

  • The bill leaves in place a sentencing scheme that permits unreasonably harsh maximum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses;
  • The bill disqualifies from eligibility for treatment and rehabilitation individuals who may be most in need of such programs; and
  • The bill creates an unnecessarily burdensome procedure for sealing a criminal record after someone has completed a substance abuse program.

"This is an essential first step, but we encourage Governor Paterson and the state Senate to authorize judicial discretion to divert individuals from prison in all appropriate cases; to expand and improve the quality of alternative to incarceration programs; and to provide long-sought justice to the thousands of families that have been torn apart by the Rockefeller drug laws," Lieberman said.

Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, which has been part of the Rockefeller reform movement for years, offered a more radical critique. "It's not just the Rockefeller drug laws -- we need to completely overhaul the criminal justice system, from sentencing to the appointment of judges to judge-shopping by prosecutors to racial profiling to banning stop and frisk searches. People need to focus on the overall criminal justice system, or just as many people will be going to prison as we have now," he told the Chronicle last month.

But right now, the focus is on getting Rockefeller reform legislation to the governor's desk. DPA's Sayegh said there were good signs in the Senate. "The Senate bill introduced by Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Bronx) is the same bill as was introduced in the Assembly," he pointed out. "We're very hopeful about that."

But Sayegh worried about what Gov. Paterson will propose. "The governor has apparently distributed a proposal to legislative leaders that has not been made public," he said. "We hope it is not a cut and paste from the Sentencing Commission, given that its recommendations do not constitute real reform."

Still, Sayegh predicted fast action in Albany. "This is moving along quickly. We think we may see a negotiated Senate bill within a week or two," he said. "Given the fiscal crisis we're facing, these reforms will save the state millions and millions of dollars. The time is right."

If and when substantial repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws is passed, then perhaps people will start asking why and whether drug users and sellers should be arrested in the first place absent harm to others. Drug treatment and drug courts may be an improvement over years in prison, but in a society that treated its citizens as adults, such authoritarian institutions would be reserved for people who have demonstrated their drug use is harming others.

Press Release: NYCLU Applauds Significant Step in Dismantling Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws

CONTACT:

Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / jcarnig@nyclu.org

NYCLU Applauds Significant Step in Dismantling Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 4, 2009 – In anticipation of the passage of a bill later today, the New York Civil Liberties Union applauded the State Assembly for taking the first significant step in dismantling the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.

“New York State is closer to justice today than we were yesterday,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “By passing this bill, our state’s Assembly is letting go of 36 years of failure and moving toward meaningful reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment.

For decades, the NYCLU, criminal justice advocates and medical experts have fought to untie the hands of judges and allow addiction to be treated as a public health matter. As noted in the New York State Sentencing Commission’s recent report, sentencing non-violent drug offenders to prison is ineffective and counterproductive, and has resulted in unconscionable racial disparities: Blacks and Hispanics comprise more than 90 percent of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies, though most people using illegal drugs are white.

“The Rockefeller drug laws have failed by every measure – cost, drug use, public safety,”said Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director. “With the passage of Jeff Aubry’s bill, the Assembly has acted on Governor Paterson’s directive to fundamentally reform the state’s failed drug policy.   The bill shifts the paradigm, away from mass incarceration and toward a public health model.” 

The Assembly bill (A.6085) embraces judicial discretion in sentencing and allows for rehabilitation and drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration. The bill:

  • Restores the authority of a judge to divert some people into substance abuse treatment or other community-based programs that best address the person’s needs;
  • Provides for retroactive relief for those sentenced under the old Rockefeller sentencing scheme;
  • Creates re-entry planning services for those in prison, including services that improve access to medical assistance upon release; and
  • Establishes a “crime reduction fund” which will be used to fund prevention and treatment services.

The NYCLU took pains, however, to make clear that while the bill represents an important step in overhauling the drug laws, the bill was nevertheless only one step. 

The organization’s analysis found that in certain essential respects, the Assembly proposal does not fully realize the reform principles on which the legislation is based.   

The NYCLU noted, for example, that the bill:

·         Leaves in place a sentencing scheme that permits unreasonably harsh maximum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses;

·         Disqualifies from eligibility for treatment and rehabilitation individuals who may be most in need of such programs; and

·         Creates an unnecessarily burdensome procedure for sealing a criminal record after someone has completed a substance abuse program.

The NYCLU also recommended that in order to realize the promise of alternative to incarceration programs, the state must develop evidence-based, best-practice models to ensure good outcomes for the individuals who enter such programs – and for their families and communities.

“This is an essential first step, but we encourage Governor Paterson and the State Senate to authorize judicial discretion to divert individuals from prison in all appropriate cases; to expand and improve the quality of alternative to incarceration programs; and to provide long-sought justice to the thousands of families that have been torn apart by the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” Lieberman said.

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Press Release: NYS Assembly to Pass Rockefeller Reform Legislation this Week

For Immediate Release: March 2, 2009 For More Info: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264 New York State Assembly Preparing to Enact Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws Vote this Week on Legislation that Would Restore Judicial Discretion, Expand Treatment, Improve Public Safety Advocates Applaud Speaker Silver and the Assembly's Commitment to Reforming Drug Laws, Call on Senate and Governor to Support Real Reform This week, the NY State Assembly is poised to pass A.6085-legislation that will, finally, enact real reform of the Rockefeller Drug laws. The bill, sponsored by Aubry, Silver and many more (multiple sponsors), represents a significant step forward in developing more rational, effective approaches to drug policy by taking a public health and safety approach. The general purpose of the bill is to reduce drug-related crime by addressing substance abuse that often lies at the core of criminal behavior. "With everyone from the Sentencing Commission to the Governor talking about reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, it's critical to examine any proposal and make sure it constitutes real reform," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance. "To be real, meaningful reform, any proposal must include restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases; expansion of alternative-to-incarceration programs and community based drug treatment; fair and equitable sentencing reforms; and retroactive sentencing relief for people serving unjust sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Assembly has included these provisions, and their proposal constitutes real reform." Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers (kingpins), most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record. Approximately 12,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 21 percent of the prison population, and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Nearly 90% of those incarcerated are Black and Latino, representing some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue to deny people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and does not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. After the reforms of 2004, there were more people sent to prison under Rockefeller Drug Law offenses than in previous years. A.6085, introduced last week and expected to pass this week, includes the following provisions which balance safety and justice: * Returns discretion to sentencing judges to tailor the penalty to the facts and circumstances of each drug offense. * Allows a sentence of probation and treatment when appropriate. * Strengthens in-prison treatment and reentry services. * Expands the use of alternatives to incarceration, including community-based treatment, when appropriate. * Allows certain eligible individuals incarcerated for low-level drug offenses previous to the 2004/05 Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA) to apply for resentencing-these are people who did not receive relief in previous reforms. Individuals convicted of violent crimes are not eligible. * Expands use of drug courts throughout New York. * Increase penalties for sale of a controlled substance to a child. * Establishes a new kingpin crime for trafficking through a controlled substance organization. The Assembly's introduction of the bill comes just weeks after drug policy reform experts and stakeholders convened at the New York Academy of Medicine to develop a public health and safety approach to drug policy. The historic conference was attended by representatives of the Governor's office; the Speaker and members of the Assembly; leadership from the State Senate; members of the New York City Council; and hundreds of doctors, lawyers, advocates, people in recovery, drug treatment specialists, criminal justice experts and more. (www.newdirectionsnewyork.org) "New Yorkers simply cannot afford these failed laws any longer," said Sayegh. "Incarceration costs approximately $45,000 per year, while treatment and alternatives to incarceration can cost less than $10,000 and are far more effective at reducing recidivism and restoring community health. The Assembly, by proposing real reform, is taking the first step towards advancing a public health and safety approach to drug policy in our state. Now the Senate and the Governor need to weigh in. They've expressed their support for real reform in the past, and we are hopeful they'll support real reform now."
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NY
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Press Release: NYCLU to City Council: Rockefeller Drug Laws Cause Racial Disparities, Huge Taxpayer Burden

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 24, 2009 CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig at 212.607.3363 or jcarnig@nyclu.org NYCLU to City Council: Rockefeller Drug Laws Cause Racial Disparities, Huge Taxpayer Burden February 24, 2009 – At a hearing today before the City Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union presented testimony illustrating the stark racial disparities and enormous financial burden generated by the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York City. Socheatta Meng, the NYCLU’s legislative counsel, testified before the Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services. “By mandating harsh prison sentences based primarily upon the amount of drugs involved, this state’s drug-sentencing scheme has proven itself to be draconian, irrational, unfair and racially discriminatory,” Meng said. The NYCLU called on the City Council to urge New York State’s political leaders to significantly reform the drug sentencing laws. “This is a new political moment,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, who did not testify. “Governor Paterson, as well as key legislative leaders in Albany, have publicly pledged their commitment to reform. A fiscal crisis requires strict cost-cutting. The time is ripe for us to demand real changes to our state’s drug sentencing laws.” Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record. Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue to deny people serving under harsh sentences the ability to apply for shorter terms, and restrict the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs.
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Urge Obama to commute like Lincoln!

Families Against Mandatory Minimums logo

 

Friends --

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  While most people know that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union, many don’t know that he was also one of the most generous presidents when it came to granting pardons and commutations.

In one term, Lincoln granted almost 400 commutations and pardons.  Lincoln gave clemency to everyday offenders, Southern sympathizers, draft dodgers, and wrongfully-charged Indians.  He had a weakness for weeping mothers who, in those days, could walk right into the White House and beg for mercy for their sons at the president’s knee.  As many of you know from personal experience, it’s not so easy to get a clemency request into the White House today, and it is much harder to get one granted. 

Lincoln also used clemency strategically, to inspire Congress to act.  At the end of the war, he pardoned ex-Confederates as a way of telling Congress to put differences aside and start rebuilding the country. 

Join us today in asking President Obama to do as Lincoln did:  to grant clemency generously and strategically.  By doing so, he will send a strong message to Congress that mandatory minimum sentencing laws are undermining American principles of justice and must be changed.  President Obama needs to know how much normal, everyday offenders and their families are counting on clemency, so help FAMM by writing to him now!   Click here to send a letter or email to President Obama.

My best,

Julie

Julie Stewart
President
Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Drug War Issues

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