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    Post: Spitzer Should Make Rockefeller Drug Law Reform #1 Priority

    Posted by Shreya Mandal on 1/03/07

    Albany Times-Union

    Put Drug Laws on Day One Docket

    First published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    New Yorkers are waiting to see whether Gov. Eliot Spitzer's
    campaign slogan -- "Day One, Everything Changes"-- is
    genuine, or just a slogan. There are a number of issues
    that warrant the attention of the new administration, and
    reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws should be a

    The Rockefeller Drug Laws, passed in 1973, mandate harsh
    mandatory minimum prison terms for simple, low-level drug
    offenses. Under these laws, people convicted of first-time
    drug offenses receive 8 to 20 years in prison. While the
    state spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year
    imprisoning drug offenders, spending on community-based drug
    treatment is pitifully low. Indeed, treatment options for
    people with drug problems are too limited, especially for
    low-income people. There are more than 14,000 people in New
    York prisons under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Nationwide,
    over 500,000 people are incarcerated on drug offenses, more
    than any other industrialized nation (and more than the
    European Union, with 100 million more residents,
    incarcerates for all offenses combined).

    But perhaps the most despicable aspect of the Rockefeller
    Drug Laws is the institutional racism associated with their
    application. More than 90 percent of the people
    incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are black and
    Latino, even though whites use and sell illegal drugs at
    approximately equal rates. There is no excuse for this
    disparity. With New York City reeling from yet another
    police shooting of an unarmed black man, questions of
    institutional racism in policing practices are fresh on the
    minds of New Yorkers. Spitzer should take note: Recent
    polls show that nearly 80 percent of New Yorkers believe
    the Rockefeller Drug Laws should be repealed. These
    policies, ineffective and racist, waste thousands lives and
    millions of dollars each year. The laws were moderately
    reformed two years ago, but as Senate Majority Leader Joe
    Bruno said of the 2004 reforms, "More needs to be done."
    Advocates, newspaper editorial boards, and leaders across
    the political spectrum agreed, as did Lt. Gov. David
    Paterson, a longtime champion of reform.

    Yet real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws remains
    unfinished. Spitzer can complete drug law reform by doing
    five things:

    1. Restore judicial discretion. Under mandatory minimum
    sentencing practices, judges have no discretion in
    sentencing. For example, whether the offense is a person's
    first, or they are simply a mule, is irrelevant.
    Organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic
    Bishops, the American Bar Association, and Supreme Court
    Justice Anthony Kennedy have all called for an end to
    mandatory minimums because they constitute unfair practices.

    2. Fund treatment. A study by the RAND Corporation found
    that treatment is 15 times more effective -- and far
    cheaper -- than incarceration in reducing drug abuse and
    related crime. In California, voters passed Prop. 36 in
    2000, diverting people arrested for first- and second- time
    simple drug possession into community-based treatment, not
    prison. A recent UCLA study found that Prop. 36 is highly
    successful. Some 5,000 people a year receive treatment
    instead of prison, saving state taxpayers $1.3 billion.

    3 Enact sentencing reform. The Rockefeller Drug Laws are
    draconian because the sentences are so inhumane. We need
    further sentencing reform, including reform of the Second
    Felony Offender Act, and an increased use of alternatives
    to incarceration. Eight to 20 years for a first-time,
    nonviolent offense is what we'd expect from a dictatorship,
    not a democracy.

    4. Apply retroactivity. Sentencing reforms should apply
    retroactively to the more than 14,000 people currently
    incarcerated because of these laws.

    5. Focus on re-entry. Tie these reforms together with a
    comprehensive re-entry plan, providing wrap-around services
    such as drug treatment and job training for people
    returning to our communities from prison. Help them become
    productive, taxpaying citizens instead of being a prison

    By doing all this, Spitzer can ensure that people with
    addictions receive treatment instead of a jail cell; he can
    save taxpayer dollars while improving public safety; and he
    can help end the institutional racism in our criminal
    justice system. New Yorkers will be watching to make sure
    Spitzer holds true to his campaign promises. Anything less
    will not be real reform.

    Gabriel Sayegh is a project director at the Drug Policy
    Alliance in New York City. His e-mail address is

    Posts on this thread, including this one
  • Spitzer Should Make Rockefeller Drug Law Reform #1 Priority, 1/03/07, by Shreya Mandal.

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