Drop the Rock!

By Michael Laird
February 28, 2002

In Governor Pataki's State of the State address this year, he called for lessening New York's mandatory sentences for drug crimes. The Rockefeller Drug Laws, some of the harshest penalties in the nation, mandate that judges impose sentences of no less than 15 years to life for anyone convicted of selling 2 ounces or possessing 4 ounces of a narcotic substance. While locking up some serious drug dealers, these unduly harsh laws have also filled New York prisons with non-violent, minor offenders and drained resources from public education and community services.

At the crux of the matter is mandatory sentencing, which sets fixed and severe prison terms for specific offenses and takes away judges' ability to make sentencing decisions based on the facts in the individual case. In addition, judges are prohibited from making treatment a sentencing option. The Rockefeller laws fill New York prisons with non-violent offenders and money better spent on education for our youth is absorbed by the inflated prison budget. Ironically, according to a Rockefeller Foundation-funded study, these laws have increased New York State's prison spending by over $750 million in the last ten years, while state allocations for state and city colleges have been slashed by $615 million -- almost a dollar for dollar trade off.

Governor Pataki should follow through on his pledge to lessen New York's mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Urge the governor to propose comprehensive reform legislation that restores judicial discretion and reduces the unduly harsh sentences that have torn apart families and communities.


TRUE DEMOCRACY Summer 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.