New York Passes Modest Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms
What was a mandatory 15 year to life sentence will now be punished by a term of 8 to 20 years. The good news is that up to 400 offenders punished under the old law will be allowed to get out early. The bad news? The law doesn't go nearly far enough.
[Critics] complained that inmates serving what they called unduly long prison terms for lesser crimes would not be allowed to apply for early release, and that judges were not given the power to sentence some offenders to treatment programs rather than prison.
"This is it?" an exasperated State Senator Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat, shouted during the debate. "This is it? After all this time, this is what comes to the floor? It would be an unbelievable stretch to call this Rockefeller drug reform."
New York's drug laws are among the harshest in the country:
A study by the Democrats in the State Senate found that New York imposed the harshest penalties in the nation for low-level drug offenders. It found that 32 states, including Texas and Florida, offer probation to nonviolent offenders who sell small amounts of drugs, and that New York was the only state that required more than three years in prison for such offenses.
Both sides compromised:
To reach a compromise, the Senate and Governor Pataki gave up on their calls to increase penalties in some areas for drug kingpins, drug dealers who use children as couriers and drug dealers who use guns. The Assembly gave up its calls to give judges the discretion to sentence offenders to treatment instead of prison, to allow more inmates to seek early release and to add more treatment options.
More complaints about the "reform" bill:"
Robert Gangi, the executive director of Correctional Association of New York, a prison monitoring group, said that the current system was still weighted in favor of prosecutors. "What mandatory sentencing means is that judges no longer have the authority to make the threshold decision of whether someone should be incarcerated or not," he said. "We're supposed to have an adversarial system: the defense attorney on one side, the D.A. on the other side. And the judge is the neutral arbiter who is supposed to weigh their claims. What mandatory sentencing does is stack the deck in favor of one side in the adversarial process, and that is the prosecutors."
Nonetheless, activists are to be praised for not giving up. Some background on their efforts is here. and here. The dissension between Pataki and Assembly Democrats is here. On the laws themselves, here and here.
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