Press Release: NYCLU Applauds Pledge to Reform Rock Drug Laws, but Cautions to Wait for Details

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Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / [email protected]

NYCLU Applauds Pledge to Reform Rock Drug Laws, but Cautions to Wait for Details

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 27, 2009 – The New York Civil Liberties Union applauded the pledge made today by the governor, senate and assembly to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, but cautioned that the essential details of the agreement have yet to be revealed. What has been outlined so far reflects a significant shift in policy and an important agreement in principle, but significant details have yet to be worked out.

“What Governor Paterson, Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Smith committed to today is a new approach to dealing with drug offenses. After 36 years of locking up people who suffer from addiction and mental illness, this is an exciting step,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The leaders of our state have finally recognized that the revolving door of lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key does not work. It has failed to make us safer and it has devastated communities. But the devil is in the details. We cannot celebrate reform of our state’s discriminatory, ineffective drug laws until we know the details.”

The agreement appears to embrace – for the first time and in a meaningful way – two important principles of reform: It includes a reduction of mandatory minimum sentences, and it includes a restoration of judges’ authority to send many drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail.

“We have a commitment to the principles of reform,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry. “But the real story is that this thing isn’t done yet. Our political leaders are trying hard to reach agreement on the details of a reform bill, but they haven’t done that yet. It’s really important that we all pay attention to the details that unfold in the coming days. The details could be the difference between meaningful reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and more of the same.”

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 trapped by the laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison suffer from substance abuse problems or 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.

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Location: 
NY
United States

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