Efforts to reform New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws ended in defeat this week as talks between Republican Gov. Pataki of New York, the Republican-led New York Senate and the New York Assembly, controlled by Democrats, failed to bridge fundamental differences of vision between the two parties. Thousands of New York drug prisoners and their families must now wait another year for relief from harsh sentences under one of the country's toughest drug laws.
Although Assembly Democrats had compromised repeatedly on key provisions of reform, Pataki and the Senate Republicans would not budge. The latest assembly bill made concessions by granting prosecutors more power in deciding whether someone convicted of a drug offense should be jailed or sent to treatment, on the issue of training of judges, and on increases in funding for prosecutors. The latest language would have limited who is allowed to receive treatment and reduced the scope of mandatory minimum sentencing reforms. The Assembly also agreed to "scale back most retroactive sentencing provisions" and compromised on the Governor's plan to enact mandatory minimums for drug-involved criminals who also carry firearms instead of gun supply reduction, as the democrats originally proposed.
The Governor accused the Assembly of opposing his alternative bill, S. 7588 even though it would "reunite hundreds of families in a matter of weeks." After speaking with representatives of Mothers of the Disappeared, an advocacy group for Rockefeller law reform, Pataki stated that he "offered a comprehensive plan, which has passed the State Senate, that advocates for change have called 'true reform' and a 'gigantic step' forward." The Star-Gazette, however, reported heavy criticism of Pataki by Mothers of the Disappeared, who blame Pataki for the lack of a deal.
The main point on which Republicans and Democrats refuse to compromise is how much of an emphasis should be put on treatment instead of imprisonment. The Governor and Senate want to see the decision of whether or not to send someone to treatment to have more involvement by prosecutors, whereas Democrats want judges to make the decision, which it is believed would allow more of those convicted into treatment instead of prison.
Debate over Rockefeller-law reforms has been intense. Recently, Pataki successfully pressured a Spanish-language television station to pull ads that were critical of his drug law reform proposals. The ad, put out by the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), accused Pataki's proposal of failing to help family members of those who have been given the largest mandatory minimum sentences.
A recent Zogby poll indicated that 73.8% of New Yorkers favor treatment over jail sentences for those who have been convicted of possession of drugs.