NY Assembly to Vote on Reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws Today

35 years of draconian drug offender sentencing may come to a halt in New York as the Assembly votes today on reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The New York State Assembly is set to vote today on legislation that would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance abuse treatment instead of prison. The legislation would also allow thousands of prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses to have their sentences reduce or commuted.

It’s the latest step in a long campaign to repeal the draconian Rockefeller laws. The laws impose lengthy minimum sentences on drug offenders, even those with no prior convictions. The laws have disproportionately targeted people of color, while giving prosecutors de facto control over how long convicts are jailed.

The Albany Times Union says Just Say Yes to Drug Law Reform. Our post from last week on this is here.

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    And all because of the economy (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by SeeEmDee on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 01:54:53 PM EST
    Change in our drug laws is not coming because of how wrong it is to cage human beings for consuming plants and derivatives from them. Change in our drug laws is not coming as a result of having savaged freedoms that The Founders would have taken a musket to you for daring to even suggest that they be surrendered, no matter how seemingly 'good' the idea might appear. Change is not coming to our drug laws because of the vast amount of misery that has been visited upon those who were only harming themselves (and with cannabis, even that is arguable).

    No, it has to take a serious economic downturn, that's starting to resemble another Great Depression, for local and State governments to realize the magnitude of the error of trying to incarcerate our way out of social problems, instead of allocating the time and resources to deal with them in a humane fashion. The Almighty Dollar (which ain't so mighty anymore), not simple human compassion, had to win out. Sweet reason wasn't enough; the financial ball-breaker had to be employed. What does this say about us as a country?

    violent, property, gun-related - has seen radical drops in rates over the past 15 years or so. Drug arrests, however, are way up.

    Cops gotta keep busy somehow... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 02:18:48 PM EST
    with violent crime down, that leaves non-violent crimes.

    Do the math (none / 0) (#10)
    by NYShooter on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 03:38:03 PM EST
    Arrest a rapist or murderer; what's in it for the cop? Endless paperwork, much time, and no moolah.

    Arrest a drug peddler; grab his two kilos, turn one in, keep one for you & your buddies....a cool 50k.

    But, I know I'm dreaming; Cops become cops to uphold the law and protect the citizenry.

    Especially in New Orleans.


    This might also be of interest (none / 0) (#1)
    by Anne on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 12:43:40 PM EST
    to you, Jeralyn - saw it in my local paper this morning and thought it made all kinds of sense:

    There are times when nothing useful comes from prison time

    An excerpt:

    The last time he went to prison - in either late 2005 or early 2006 - it was on a marijuana conviction. A Baltimore County judge sent him away for three years for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it. He had 24 small bags of grass on him when the police caught him. His arrest constituted a violation of probation.

    "I did 2 1/2 years on a three-year bit," he says. "If you look on my record, there's a lot of different stuff from when I was younger."

    Imagine this: The state budget situation in Maryland is so bad that even $3.7 billion in federal stimulus won't be enough to spare additional cuts in staffing and services, and that includes the state prison system. I guess that, back in the good ole days, when the treasury was flush with revenue, we could afford to send guys to prison for 2 1/2 years for selling marijuana. No wonder we lead the world in incarceration per capita. No wonder our prisons are full.

    Even if, in the first place, it made sense to send this guy to prison, nothing useful came of his time there. He had no vocational training, no preparation for re-entry from prison life. It cost Maryland taxpayers about $25,000 a year to keep him in the prisons he mentioned yesterday.

    What was the point?

    Questioning spending on prisons is not the most politically popular thing to do. That's why almost no one does it, including Democrats regarded as liberals. But you'd think that the new economic reality - this age of supposedly heightened responsibility in government - would force Maryland and all its Obama-supporting Democrats into a little self- examination. Why are we putting anyone with an opiate addiction behind the walls when what they need is medical treatment? Is 50 percent an acceptable rate of recidivism? Why are we just warehousing criminals instead of preparing them for re-entry and a job? What are we doing, sending guys to prison for selling a few bags of marijuana?

    It made no sense in good times. It makes none in bad.

    The columnist makes excellent points.

    Anne, Anne,..... ANNE!! (none / 0) (#11)
    by NYShooter on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 04:05:02 PM EST
    Dontcha watch teeeveeee?

    Our President, fulfilling his campaign promise, to "reach across the aisle and put an end  to Partisanship," is now negotiating with the Leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, who , together with his matastizing list of wannabee clones, hold sway over countless millions of illiterate knuckle draggers.

    In states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, any Attorney General running for office would win in a landslide if he proposed the death penalty for blowing a little doobie.

    "We dohn't wahn no  Librul, Hippie, Freaks cummin on down heya infultratin our good Christian Chillun wid dere Devil Pot, and turnin dem ohll into Queee-ahs."

    Those are limbaugh's acolytes.

    They would obediently, and worshipfully, dive off a cliff (en masse) with a snap of his finger.

    And they vote.


    Mea Culpa. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Anne on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 04:08:32 PM EST
    What was I thinking?

    Most of the TV I watch these days is pure escape, designed not to raise the blood pressure or make me scream.

    SERENITY NOW!!! Ya know?


    Not so sure about that (none / 0) (#13)
    by CST on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 04:29:19 PM EST
    This is from a predominantly right-wing website (although they are more moderate than Rush, I'll give you that).

    In my state, pot was more popular than Obama by a good margin on the ballot, and Obama was pretty popular.  I think the red-staters like a good toke as much as the rest of the country.  Where do you think the majority of it is grown??


    A reminder (none / 0) (#5)
    by dualdiagnosis on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 02:55:01 PM EST
    Mandatory minimums in sentencing and zero tolerance rules in schools and such were pushed at the time as ways to deal with perceived unfairness in the discretion used by prosecutors and administrators when applying punishments and jail time. Memories are so short, now the railing is against these rules and laws because they are unfair.

    Now we can go back to square one.

    I agree... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 02:59:40 PM EST
    back to square one, the good old days when you could go to the pharmacy and buy whatever drug you wanted, no permission slip required, and certainly no criminal offense involved.

    or (none / 0) (#7)
    by dualdiagnosis on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 03:04:40 PM EST
     back to the days that two individuals with the exact same offense face wildly different punishments, based on spelling of last names or color of skin.

    The solution isn't to tyrannize... (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 03:30:16 PM EST
    everyone equally...the solution is to end tyranny.

    Far too many are primed (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by jondee on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 03:33:54 PM EST
    from the cradle in this country for draconian grandstanding and demagoguery: reasoning about problems being the province of "elites".

    There's something just so righteous and sexy about making people who are already suffering suffer more.

    See: any broadcast of "The Savage Nation".


    Yes (none / 0) (#15)
    by MrConservative on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 10:40:03 PM EST
    then they all get unreasonably harsh sentences.

    Party is meaningless! They're all just the same! (none / 0) (#14)
    by MrConservative on Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 10:38:53 PM EST
    Kind of funny that immediately after the Republicans were thrown out of the NY senate, for the first time in thirty years, the Rockefeller drug laws are immediately repealed, huh?

    Fingers crossed (none / 0) (#16)
    by Mikeb302000 on Wed Mar 04, 2009 at 07:45:55 AM EST
    I sure hope the vote goes as it should.  Whatever the motivation behind this proposed change, it will be for the good.

    I remember years ago hearing from a drug addict of my acquaintance that Rockefeller approved the use of methadone because at the time he and his advisors thought it would kill off all the junkies. That may have been just talk, but I never forgot it.

    It's more the money than anything else (none / 0) (#17)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Mar 04, 2009 at 07:57:25 AM EST
    Or, more correctly, the lack of it.

    As times get tighter, and they no doubt will, we may expect to hear pols talking more about being "Smart on crime!" as opposed to the traditional "Tough on crime!", but this is just papering over the fact that the 'War on Drugs' as it has been waged these past 27 years required vast sums of national 'expendable income', as it produced nothing material but prisons.

    Now, that 'expendable income' has vanished like an ice cube in a blowtorch flame. It's time for the old choice of 'guns or butter' when it comes to drug prohibition. We simply cannot afford to keep the DrugWar machinery going any longer, and another approach is in order. And by far the most logical one is the elimination of drug prohibition as we know it.

    But seeing as it is singularly useful for politically nullifying minority populations (via voter disenfranchisement for drug offense convictions) and socially ostracizing them (refusal of employment due to past convictions, denial of social services for same, etc.) it's not likely to be ended without a major fight...because it certainly benefits some very powerful political forces. Who have no qualms about using children as ideological (and fiscal) 'human shields' ("The children! The children! Somebody think about the chil-dre-ennnn!") to maintain the 'system'.

    But economics (and the bloodshed fostered by drug prohibition) is having the effect that rationality never seems to have had, and very soon I expect there to be more calls for public debate on the issue of illegal drugs, as happened in El Paso recently.

    It's interesting to note that the El Paso City Council only backed down when the greatest beneficiaries of drug prohibition (besides the cartels) marshaled their forces to browbeat the Council...for having the temerity to just ask to have a debate. That's all they wanted, just ask for a national debate on the DrugWar. That's all. That's it. But somebody got real scared at the prospect. I wonder why...