Pubdate: Sun, 27 Sep 1998
Source: Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY)


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.


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Checked-by: Rolf Ernst