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April 19, 2001

2001.04.19: To what degree will the Rockefeller laws be changed (Amsterdam News)

2001.04.19 – To what degree will the Rockefeller laws be changed – Amsterdam News — OCR

To what de ee will the ockefeller Laws e changed?

By ‘fRIPTI lAHIRI The laws also leave judges

With both New York Gov. little discretion to sentence

George Pataki and state assem- according to individual circumblymembers

p~posing reform stances, like extreme youth or

of the 30-year-o’l{ Rockefeller lack of a prior record. And with

drug laws this yea~change is many prisons located upstate,

likely, but its degree i8-~t cer- the laws appear to bolster

tain. Last Thursday, adv~tes upstate New York’s sagging

hoping for a major overh~, economy at a severe cost to

testified before a Statewide Inner-city communities.

Black and Puerto Rican/Latino EIY,Fontaine, from the East

Substance Abuse Task Force in Harlem HIV Care Initiative,

Brooklyn Borough Hall. asked assemblymembers to r “Drug abuse must be think of “The Matrix,” a 1998

‘removed entirely from the movie in which machines lived

ambit of criminal law and off cocooned human beings. “Is

treated as the social, economic this any different than the

and health issue that it is,” housing of Blacks and Latinos

Michael Letwin, president of in upstate prisons?” he asked.

the Association of Legal Aid Although several of those

I ~ttorneys, told assemblymem- who testified praised Pataki for

lJ’ers and state senators. proposing reform, they dis-

In response to the perceived agreed with certain aspects of

failure of rehabilitation, Gov. his plan.

Nelson D. Rockefeller pushed “All proposals for reform are

for the 1973 laws that mandat- not equal,” emphasized Seyed

terms of 15-years-to-life for mour James, also of Legal Aid,

anyone_ caught selling two pointing out that Pataki’s proounces

or possessing four posal will lower some senounces

of a narcotic drug, usu- tences, but will increase penalally

cocaine or heroin. Three ties for marijuana offenses and

decades later, prosecutors still make it harder for drug offendsay

the laws are vital to law ers to get parole.

enforcement and have helped The Assembly plan limits

reduce crime. sentences to a maximum of 25

But according to critics, the years for certain first-time

laws have taken a sharp toll on felonies, reduces minimums for

Blacks and Latinos and have other less serious offenses and

not reduced drug use. The two gives judges greater discretion

minorities make up 94 percent in sentences. But all of those

ofNewYork’s incarcerated drug who testified insisted that

offenders, even though reform must include the option

research from the federal of treatment for addicted

Department of Health and inmates. According to James,

Human Services shows that the treatment is several thousand

majority of users and sellers dollars cheaper than the

are white. $30,000 estimated annual cost

of housing an inmate, and far

more effective in reducing drug


“If a person goes in and he is

addicted, why doesn’t he get

treatment? Isn’t that a violation

of the Eighth Amendment

[against cruel and unusual

punishment]?” added Fontaine.

Defense attorney Lisa

Schreibersdorf, head of the

Brooklyn Defenders Association,

also said that district attorneys

should not be the ones to determine

drug treatment options for

convicts, as outlined in the Pataki

plan. “The same person who

gets treatment in Brooklyn could

go to jail in Albany,” said

Schreibersdorf, “Most district

attorneys do not believe in treatInent.”

She added that New York

state needs to provide inmates

greater access to education,

expanding the experimental system

of specialized “drug courts,”

and make it easier to expunge

the records of former inmates

who have stayed out of trouble


The assemblymembers,

many of whom represent areas

that have been adversely

affected by the drug laws,

appeared to agree _with most of

the points made by the public

defenders, treatment providers

and corrections officers.

“He wanted to make us

tough on crime, but he made us

stupid on crime,” said Assemb.

Adam Clayton Powell IV as he

listened to testimony.

But Sen. Velmanette Montgomery

sounded a note of caution

and raised the issue of “reentry.”

“Some people will be

coming back to their communities,”

said Montgomery,

“[They’ll need] housing, treatment,

job preparation. What

are we looking at and where

will the funds come from?”

AJ~ ( ll { 0 I – ‘( (tr( o I


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