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.
June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy
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.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Help on the way

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Drug Reform

It's about time that drug reform be taken a close look at. Today laws are passed not to help the masses but to butter the bread of the courts system, prison system,and justify the outrages salary being paid to law enforcement. Busting people for recreational drugs use is a cottage industry, that keeps on giving.

In the mean time young American kids are getting hook on hard drugs because Pharma has such strong lobbyist and are not held responsible for the designer drugs there pumping into our society. Oxycontin(Heroin) being the number one offender. A drug that had hooked kids in record numbers and most end up on street heroin and dead.

However the police refuse to take on this issue because it means some doctors careers will be ruined or the money from this manufacture profits get risked.

Note they never name the names of the "prescription" drugs that all these famous celebrity die from.

There happy to arrest and ruin lives over the use of marijuana which in my opinion is a joke.. I never met one person who overdosed while high on pot but catch a kid with oxy's and it a fine.

The money wasted in government arresting people and ruining there lives over using pot is laughable if not so serious. Hard drug users/addicts cannot be held responsible for their action. When you are hooked on morphine drugs your brain's physically altered and your right and wrong thinking process is altered and like a mentally ill person what the point in arresting them? They don't need prison but long term treatment. Let them get off drugs and than give them rehabilitation to get them back into society. This is pro active spending not putting them into jail where drugs run ramped and than release them into a cesspool until they re offend. Round and round and round in the circle jerk.

Good job Sen Rockefeller! it about time someone steps up and does something to stop the insanity.

correction good job to those

correction good job to those who are reforming the Rockefeller drug laws.

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