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Sentencing: New York's Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Now in Effect

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #603)
Drug War Issues

As many as 1,500 low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will be able to apply for release or shorter sentences under reforms to New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws that went into effect Wednesday. The partial reforms also mean increased judicial discretion in sentencing, allowing judges to send some offenders to treatment instead of prison.

June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally, NYC (
The reforms were signed into law in April by Gov. David Paterson (D) after he and the state legislature came to agreement on the issue. They build on earlier partial reforms passed in 2004 that addressed the lengthy sentences assigned to more serious drug offenders.

"Under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, we did not treat the people who were addicted. We locked them up," Paterson said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Court House. "Families were broken, money was wasted, and we continued to wrestle with a statewide drug problem. The reforms that take effect today address those problems. By returning judicial discretion to the courtroom, we are reuniting families and fighting criminal activity and addiction in our communities," he said.

Because the reforms eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges to order eligible defendants to treatment or diversion over prosecutorial objections, the State District Attorneys Association opposed the reforms. But they were championed by a formidable Drop the Rock coalition of drug policy, criminal justice, social justice, and other groups calling for repeal of the Rockefeller laws, as well as by the now Democrat-controlled legislature and statehouse.

"As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed," said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. "But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell."

"New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, and we finally succeeded this year," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform."

"Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme," said Shreya Mandal, mitigation specialist for the Legal Aid Society. "These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning." The Legal Aid Society is already working on 270 cases that should qualify for early release, according to the Associated Press.

But there is still work to be done getting drug offenders out of prison. While as many as 1,500 could get out early, they will leave behind another 12,000 or so, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Corrections. That's more than 20% of all New York state prisoners.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


maxwood (not verified)

The prison sentences have been a gift to the tobackgo industry because a huge majority of all prisoners have been tobackgo addicts, and putting an (especially young) cannabis "offender" among such a population subjects a possibly vulnerable (he tried smoking something controversial despite warnings, didn't he?) personality to pressures to get hooked on nicotine $igarettes which (as some old jailbird told Studs Terkel on the radio) are the "currency of the prison".

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 5:36pm Permalink
smokingspirit (not verified)

In reply to by maxwood (not verified)

The religious significant of smoke

The American Indian: The Blackfoot Indian grew only one plant, the tobacco plant. Other American Indian tribes smoked all types of different plants each tribe had their favorite, but the importance was the smoke, the peace pipe, and plants that had a reputation for peace and love. The cigar is given at birth to symbolize life, that spirit is sweet, the aroma remains with you to enjoy and then it’s gone, into a new form. The spirit that lingers and then flies away.
Anabaptist Experience life, Enjoy, celebrate Christ had died for your sins!
Buddha, Buddhism Strongly encourages the individual or group to make the burnt offering at least twice, once in the morning and once in the evening what you burn is up to you.
Christian Ashes to ashes dust to dust this burnt offering is a must. St. Anthony encouraged all people to smoke, the earlier the better; still celebrated each year in Italy. Christ died for our sins, your sins are like ashes you should aim for the ash tray, the right way, but it’s not the end of the world if you miss, as long as it’s done in peace.
Confucius Great Chinese philosopher had a hemp hat, a 2500 year old stash of high quality weed was found in the Gobies desert
Hindu Lord Shiva Encourages the people to smoke or eat hemp 2 or 3 times a day. Ash Wednesday is not just one day a year for holy is an opening for the living
Jewish The Holy Scriptures, These plants are your meat. God saw it and it was good. The smoke in the scriptures was not just for God, but from God.
Muslim The water pipe has been a good place to smoke, sit and praise God
Protestant The bible is revealed to the individual in Gods own time and way all things are possible under God as long as the moral of Christ is maintained, the power over the plants and animals granted to man in the first page of the Christian bible.
Pagan- Rainbow tribe, Amazon tribe, voodoo, all of these place a huge importance on making the burnt offering using hemp or other plants to reach a spiritual plane that does not fit into a computer

The American significant of smoke

History America first settlers survived because of tobacco, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew weed.
Law This country constitution was founded on “Gods nature and his Natural goodness” the supreme law that everyone is responsible for
Victory- WWI- WWII the tobacco farmer was exempt from service for national security reasons. The war was indirectly won because of tobacco “take 5 smoke em if you’ve got em “
Prosperity Tobacco has been important in trade and prosperity for the American people, hundreds of independent growers and tobacco shops that flourished in the 1920s and 1950s
Common since They recommended planting hemp along side roads and in farms for erosion control. Nicotine patch, designer steroids for athletics do you really believe they can’t control the crave?
Customs and culture people would leave cigs in a glass case for guest; the smoker was taken into consideration form ash trays on planes, restaurants, and cars. To free matches- one of the US presidents gave out free cigars. Pipes were not an excuse to harass the people but common place.
Science Henry Ford made a car out of weed they can make fuel out of weed. NASCAR was started and powered by moon shine
Health we do not recognize a profit driven organization that cannot tell every atom or cell in a plant much less dictate to a free American especially since they worship Apollo and swear to Hippocrates a Greek god making the Hippocratic Oath.
Nicotine is found in potatoes, Increased metabolism, weed is recommended by Canada and European medical communities, and is high in potassium, tobacco plants can be used to grow vaccines or vitamin C added. Statistics can be swayed to fit any argument; 2 out of every 3 accidents are caused by people not drinking or doing drugs. Man has had smoke in his lungs since the beginning of time. The blood of Christ is wine

Wed, 10/14/2009 - 2:42pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

1. You are doubtless right that since bans became widespread the addiction rate has been going down. The "2/3 of all inmates" figure is at least a decade old. If incarceration cures a victim-- that's a savings of $2000 a year (pack-a-day in high tax state) possibly for life (do I hear "thanks" anywhere?). Research is needed to find out if clandestine heavy overdosers in prison still have the power to recruit/coerce youngsters as in the past when they were a majority.

2. Jail experience worsens despair and depression in many cases and increases the craving to selfmedicate with nicotine.

Mon, 10/12/2009 - 8:24pm Permalink

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