Pubdate: Fri, 9 May 2008
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2008 Newsday Inc.
Author: Zachary R. Dowdy
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


As spectators booed and cheered, defense attorneys, prosecutors, 
treatment providers and reformers testified before state lawmakers 
yesterday about the ongoing battle of approaches in enforcing drug 
laws and rehabilitating offenders.

The daylong hearing in Manhattan marked to the day the 35th 
anniversary of the enactment of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, a set of 
mandatory sentencing measures that made New York one of the most 
punitive states.

Speakers urged the panel to build on amendments to the laws in 2004 
and 2005, with most calling for a more public-health based approach 
over a criminal justice strategy. Those alterations lifted the most 
draconian elements of the laws, such as lifetime incarceration for 
the most severe offenses.

The hearing is part of a process to determine what else should be done.

"The city bar believes more should be done," said Robert Gottlieb, an 
attorney in Commack and Manhattan, speaking for the criminal justice 
council of the bar association of New York. "Allow them into drug 
treatment, not prison."

Judy Whiting, of the city bar's corrections committee, said the 
Rockefeller Drug Laws have wreaked "collateral consequences" on 
people convicted of drug offenses and their families and communities.

"People convicted of drug-related felonies face really serious 
obstacles to joining society once they are released," she said.

Lisa Schreibersdorf, president of the state Association of Criminal 
Defense Attorneys, said legislators should adopt laws to "wipe away" 
a first-time offender's record for minor drug offenses.

Bridget G. Brennan, special narcotics prosecutor for New York City, 
said reforms to the drug laws have reduced the amount of time people 
serve in prison and the number of inmates in for drug offenses 
without lifting the threat of incarceration that motivated many to 
kick the habit.

"The threat of incarceration is critical to the success of our 
programs - and it is a critical element in the success of our efforts 
to keep dealers from taking over buildings, blocks and 
neighborhoods," she said.

Brennan echoed prosecutor Rhonda Ferdinand, who runs alternatives to 
incarceration (ATI) programs for the city. "The plain and unvarnished 
truth is that for the ATI process, the harsh sentences of the 
Rockefeller Drug Laws was the backbone of our success," she said, 
drawing hisses and boos in response.

"Drug cases are on the wane, so somebody's doing something right," 
said Assemb. Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn). "The answer may lie 
somewhere in between" reducing penalties and giving incentives for 
treatment and curbing the drug trade. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake