Pubdate: Sun, 20 May 2007
Source: Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY)
Copyright: 2007 The Herald Company
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


The 34th anniversary of the Rockefeller drug laws passed this month 
without fanfare.

Yet the more than 15,000 mostly African-American and Hispanic 
offenders incarcerated under some of the harshest drug laws in the 
land would surely have liked someone to notice. Too many non-violent 
drug offenders remain imprisoned under laws that in some cases 
require stiffer penalties for possessing small amounts of cocaine 
than for committing rape or manslaughter.

And although almost every political leader, past and present 
(including those who drafted the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key 
statutes in 1973), believes the laws are archaic, the momentum for 
change seems to have slowed considerably. Three years ago, the Drop 
the Rock campaign by celebrities such as hip-hop mogul Russell 
Simmons, and other efforts from lawmakers and advocacy groups like 
the Drug Policy Alliance, brought some changes, but they didn't go far enough.

Under the reforms, which were further amended in 2005, some drug 
offenders with Class I and II felonies could apply for resentencing, 
which could make them eligible for release. Some sentence times were 
shortened. But many non-violent drug offenders did not benefit from 
the changes, and Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders agreed that the 
reforms were only a first step.

The Assembly seems motivated to continue the work. Last month, it 
passed more reforms, including the much-needed provision that gives 
judges discretion in sentencing, which would allow them to send 
non-violent offenders to drug treatment programs, where many belong. 
The Assembly plan also lengthens sentences for drug kingpins.

But the Senate, which had resisted drug law changes for so long, has 
not moved on the issue. Some critics have suggested the Senate 
doesn't want to change the laws because Upstate communities would 
lose some of their prison populations, which are included in Census 
counts. Communities with lower Census counts could face redistricting.

It is doubtful that senators are that callous or calculating. But 
whatever their reasons, they have not been pushing the reforms.

The Senate and Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who has backed drug law reform, 
need to re-engage in this effort. It would also be nice to hear 
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's voice on this issue; he has a history 
of fighting for the cause.

Next year, there should be no 35th anniversary commemoration of drug 
laws that have punished some non-violent offenders more than child 
rapists and killers.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman