Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jan 2002
Source: Albany Times Union (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: Bernard Fleishman
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


Your editorial ("A needless ritual," Jan. 2) on the injustice and 
ineffectiveness of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, is right on the mark.

It is in the nature of youth to try new experiences. Many youngsters, 
foolishly, try drugs (as have some American presidents), but the 
overwhelming majority do not become addicts.

But in New York state, if your kid has the bad luck to be caught and 
convicted of possessing four ounces of a narcotic substance, the judge is 
mandated to impose a prison term of no less than 15 years to life (see the 
TU editorial). The penalty applies without regard to the circumstances of 
the offense or the individual's character or background. For instance, it 
is irrelevant whether the person is a first-time or repeat offender.

This illustrates the harshest provisions of New York's Rockefeller Drug 
Laws, but they are unjust and unwise from various points of view.

For example, at great expense to the taxpayer, these laws fill our prisons 
with low-level, nonviolent offenders. Of almost 22,000 drug offenders 
locked up in New York state prisons, more than 27 percent, nearly 6,000 
people, were convicted of drug possession, as opposed to drug selling. It 
costs $190 million per year to keep these people in prison. Looking at a 
particular year, of all drug offenders sent to state prisons in 1997, 
nearly 80 percent were never convicted of a violent felony and nearly half 
were never arrested for a violent felony.

Furthermore, these laws are marked by racial bias. Studies and experience 
have shown that the majority of people who use and sell drugs in New York 
state and the nation are white. But in New York, African-Americans and 
Latinos comprise 94 percent of the imprisoned drug offenders.

Finally, we should be aware that alternative treatments are available that 
save money and cut crime. Studies sponsored by the National Institute on 
Drug Abuse have shown that drug treatment programs, on the whole, are 
successful in reducing the levels of drug abuse and crime among 
participants and in increasing their ability to hold a job. In fact, a 1997 
study by the RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center concluded that 
treatment is the most effective tool in the fight against drug abuse. The 
RAND study found that treatment was 15 times more effective in reducing 
serious crime than mandatory minimum person sentences.

For the reasons cited above, the Interfaith Alliance of the Capital 
District joins your newspaper and numerous religious spokespeople and civic 
leaders in urging the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The governor and 
the legislative leaders have all expressed a desire to make changes, but 
before taking action to change the statute, legislators want to hear from 
their constituents. Please contact your legislative representatives now and 
tell them that the Rockefeller Drugs Laws are unjust, ineffective and wasteful.

Bernard Fleishman,

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