Pubdate: Thu, 8 May 2008
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2008 Newsday Inc.
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


Time to End Rockefeller Drug Laws

Thirty-five years ago today, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signed the drug
laws that bear his name, setting the state on a course of costly and
ineffective mandatory prison time for non-violent drug offenders.
Since then, the war on drugs has waxed and waned, the crack epidemic
has come and gone, crime has soared and subsided, and through it all
Rockefeller's laws have endured. It's time for a change.

With New York facing big deficits and a shaky economy, the folly of
spending more than $32,000 a year to imprison each of about 6,000
people sentenced annually for non-violent drug crimes is an indulgence
taxpayers can no longer afford. Gov. David Paterson is opposed to the
status quo, so the table may finally be set for meaningful reform.

The cost - $430 million all in - would be worth bearing if
incarceration were the best way to protect the public and turn drug
abusers around. It isn't. Treatment is more effective and costs less -
$17,000 to $21,000 per person, per year, for residential programs, and
$2,700 to $4,500 for outpatient care, according to the Correctional
Association of New York.

Eliminating mandatory sentences wouldn't mean eliminating prison time
for all drug offenders. Judges would be able to sentence people based
on their individual crimes and circumstances. Costly prison cells
could be reserved for serious drug offenders, rather than their
girlfriends or gofers.

Rockefeller's laws were tweaked in 2004, resulting in sentence
reductions for 364 inmates. And the 13,427 drug offenders in state
prisons in 2007 was the lowest number since 1988. But eliminating
mandatory time could drop that count significantly and clear the way
to close some prisons. Jobs would be lost upstate, making economic
development critical. Still, it's time to scrap tough on crime for
smart on crime. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake