Pubdate: Sun, 27 Sep 1998
Date: 09/27/1998
Source: Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY)
Author: Alice P. Green
Note: Alice P. Green is candidate for NY Lieutenant Governor

I accepted the nomination of the Green Party for lieutenant governor
because I am deeply concerned about the lack of debate over the future
of our criminal justice system.

I have a doctorate in criminal justice and served as a deputy
commissioner of the state Division of Probation and Correctional
Alternatives during the Cuomo administration. I ask that Mary Donohue,
the former judge and district attorney who is the Republican candidate
for lieutenant governor, join me and the other candidates in a public
discussion about our criminal justice system, particularly our
drug-sentencing laws.

This year the Legislature voted to deny the criminal justice system
the opportunity to decide that parole was an appropriate option for
individuals convicted of Class B felonies, but who had demonstrated
that they had been rehabilitated. Legislators respond to the problem
of juvenile crime by demanding longer and harsher sentences at ever
younger ages, ignoring the fact that most children are sent away for
non-violent offenses. George Pataki led the Legislature in re-enacting
the death penalty, brushing aside the overwhelming evidence of its
racist and economic biases.

While virtually everyone agrees that the Rockefeller drug laws were a
mistake, somehow the Legislature and the governor cannot find the
political will to repeal them. As of Dec. 31, 1995, there were 8,586
drug offenders locked up in state prisons under the Rockefeller drug
laws, costing taxpayers nearly $258 million per year. There were 5,834
people locked up in state prisons for drug possession, as opposed to
drug selling. Nearly half of the annual commitments to New York state
prisons are for drug offenses.

Recently, Ms. Donohue's daughter was issued an appearance ticket to
answer charges regarding illegal drug possession. The criminal justice
system treated her far more gently than many low-income, inner-city
and minority youths have been treated for similar offenses.
African-Americans and Latinos compose 94 percent of the drug offenders
in the state prison system, although a majority of people who sell and
use drugs in New York are white.

As director of the Center for Law and Justice, I work with numerous
families touched by drug abuse, arrest and incarceration.  They too
suffer the pains that come with these types of unfortunate
experiences. As a matter of fact, thousands of New York families are
hard hit, suffering family disruption and destruction caused by long
prison sentences mandated under the Rockefeller drug laws and
second-felony-offender law.

As a mother, I am deeply concerned about the way New York handles our
drug problem. We needlessly incarcerate far too many citizens,
including our children, for low-level drug offenses. On the other
hand, few resources are put into drug treatment and crime prevention
programs to solve the problem.

I would hope that her recent experience would make Ms. Donohue and her
running mate more understanding of human frailty and expand their
capacity for forgiveness. I believe that all New Yorkers would benefit
if Ms. Donohue agreed to join me in a serious public discourse on the
state's drug-sentencing policies.