Pubdate: Sun, 9 Mar 2008
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2008 Newsday Inc.
Author: Nia-Malika Henderson
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


Josie Green, 66, showed up Saturday at a Hempstead Village forum on 
reforming the state's drug laws because she is tired of the fallout 
from the drug trade in her community.

"I've seen families fall apart, mothers sent away and grandmothers 
left to care for kids, and young people given unjustly long 
sentences," said Green, who lives in the village. "It's a bad 
situation, and to this day, it isn't any better."

The forum was part of the "Drop the Rock" campaign, a statewide 
effort to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws.  Along with about 50 
others -- community organizers, residents and pastors -- Green called 
Saturday for the repeal of the drug laws, among the toughest in the country.

Named for then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, the laws date to 1973 and 
impose minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possessing more than 
2 ounces of heroin or cocaine.

More than 90 percent of those behind bars under the Rockefeller 
statutes are members of minority groups, according to the 
Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy group.

Hempstead village Mayor Wayne Hall said the laws have had a "terrible 
effect on the black and Latino community." He praised the Terrace 
Bedell Initiative, a second-chance program by the Nassau district 
attorney that offers nonviolent drug dealers a one-time pass if they 
go straight.

In 2004, the State Legislature reduced the minimum sentences for the 
most serious felony drug offenses and increased the weight thresholds 
for the most serious possession offenses.

Yet those changes didn't go far enough, advocates say.  Drop the Rock 
organizers want the state to restore sentencing discretion to trial 
judges on all drug cases, retroactive sentencing reform, shorter 
sentence lengths for drug offenses and expanded funding for drug 
treatment and job and education training.

Supporters of the laws argue that giving drug dealers long sentences 
and taking them out of neighborhoods allows communities to be rebuilt.

The New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform is reviewing the 
punishments for drugs and other crimes and is expected to make 
recommendations to Gov. Eliot Spitzer this year.

"We have the public on our side. They want meaningful reform," 
Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator for the campaign, said at the forum. 
"Under this administration, we think we can bring pressure to bear. 
We are optimistic." 
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