HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Few State Prisoners Freed Under Eased Drug Law
Pubdate: Thu, 15 Dec 2005
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company
Author: Leslie Eaton
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


When Gov. George E. Pataki signed a law a year ago reducing what he
called "unduly long sentences" for drug crimes, he predicted that
hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders would be released from prison.

But so far, only 142 prisoners - about 30 percent of those originally
eligible for new sentences under the revised law - have been freed,
according to a report released yesterday by the Legal Aid Society.

The new law "has not resulted in a whole heck of a lot in terms of
real impact on folks who were serving long sentences," said Gabriel
Sayegh, a policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports
further changes in the drug laws and organized a news conference to
publicize the Legal Aid report.

The new sentencing provisions were the most widely heralded aspect of
the Drug Law Reform Act of 2004, which changed the mandatory
sentencing laws imposed in 1973 when Nelson Rockefeller was governor.

Those laws had been criticized for requiring judges to impose a
sentence of 15 years to life on anyone convicted of selling two ounces
or possessing four ounces of narcotics, whether they were drug lords
or low-level couriers.

The new law increased the amount of drugs that trigger long sentences,
and reduced those sentences to 8 to 20 years. And it allowed prisoners
serving the longest prison terms to ask to be resentenced under the
new standards.

The Pataki administration believes the drug law reforms are working as
they were intended to, said Chauncey G. Parker, the governor's
director of criminal justice.

The goal was not to win release for all of the long-term prisoners,
known as A-1 felons, he said. "Our goal was to give 100 percent of the
A-1's the opportunity to be resentenced," and to adjust the sentences
to fit the seriousness of their crimes.

A major reason that relatively few prisoners have been released is
that district attorneys are still opposing resentencing requests and,
in some cases, asking judges to impose long prison terms, said William
Gibney, a senior attorney for Legal Aid who wrote the report.
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