Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916
(New York, NY – Sunday, July 7) — At a press conference in front of the Governor’s Manhattan office today, New York State Comptroller Carl McCall said: “Reform of the archaic and unfair Rockefeller drug laws has waited long enough. George Pataki claims to support change but he has not delivered. Now, it’s crystal clear that he wants to silence the voices of those who seek true reform. The Governor is blocking reform of both these laws and the way we fund schools and educate our children. Governor, the time has come – either lead the fight or get out of the way.”
The press conference came at a time when Governor Pataki is at the center of a controversy regarding a television ad that Univision and Telemundo – the nation’s largest Spanish language networks – are refusing to run about the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The ad — sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Policy Reform (a 501c4 affiliate of the Drug Policy Alliance) — features family members of prisoners incarcerated under New York’s harsh drug laws, and urges Governor Pataki to back meaningful reform of these laws.
According to Telemundo, Governor Pataki’s office called the station and urged them not to run the ad, calling it factually incorrect. The Drug Policy Alliance disagrees.
“There is nothing untruthful about these ads,” said Sharda Sekaran, Associate Director of Public Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Governor should stop using stall tactics and start focusing on fulfilling his promise to New Yorkers, especially in the Latino and black communities, where 94% of drug offenders in our state prisons come from.”
At a recent meeting with family members of people serving mandatory sentences for drug offenses, known as the Mothers of the New York Disappeared, the Governor stated that he is willing to negotiate reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Still, he has failed to propose a compromise with the State Assembly, who passed legislation offering much more significant changes to these laws than the bill endorsed by Pataki.
As former Republican State Senator John Dunne wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed: “To reform these laws, [Pataki] needs to put forth a plan that restores to judges their traditional power to fashion sentences appropriate to the individual offense, with the option of diversion to court-supervised, community-based drug treatment.”
The Governor’s reluctance to follow through on his rhetoric by supporting a Rockefeller reform bill that would impact more than just a fraction of those currently incarcerated has frustrated many Latino community leaders who, along with the Mothers of the New York Disappeared, have rejected his bill.
Last Friday New York’s largest Spanish daily newspaper, El Diario, ran a front page story with the headline: “Univision Pulls Ad After Pressure from the Governor – Pataki Gags [Ad].” State Assemblyman Peter Rivera and New York City Council Member Margarita Lopez have also both urged the Governor to back the State Assembly’s proposed reform bill, which they say would affect far more families than the plan favored by Mr. Pataki.
BACKGROUND ON THE AD CONTROVERSY:
Last week’s El Diario headline referred to a TV ad that previously ran on Univision in New York, featuring family members of Rockefeller drug law prisoners and calling on the governor to negotiate a Rockefeller reform plan that would allow the thousands incarcerated under these laws to seek sentencing reduction. The article recaps how the ads were pulled by Univision following a letter from the governor’s office alleging “blatantly untruthful” elements.
Though it disputed the alleged inaccuracies, the Center for Policy Reform, which sponsored the ad, hurriedly and at great expense changed those elements that could potentially have been misunderstood as minor errors. Upon receipt of the revised ad, however, Univision pointed to one statement -“thousands of New Yorkers have a family member behind bars for mandatory sentences”, and refused to run it until “thousands” was changed to “hundreds”, making it consistent with the Governor’s interpretation of the ad.
Following is the English translation of the text of the ad in question:
Family Member: My father was my friend.
Family Member: I miss my brother.
Family Member: Without my son, I don’t have nothing.
Narrator: Thousands of New Yorkers have a family member behind bars for mandatory sentences of up to 25 years to life under the Rockefeller drug laws. These laws are some of the worst in the country. Too expensive and too cruel. Pataki’s reforms won’t reunite these families. Governor Pataki, we need real reform. New Yorkers are watching.
Family Member: My family is incomplete without my son.
According to the State Department of Corrections, there are over 19,000 drug offenders in New York state prisons, making it impossible that only “hundreds” of New Yorkers have family members incarcerated under these laws. A recent report by Human Rights Watch estimated that 23,537 children currently have parents in New York state prisons for drug offenses. Over 94% of those in New York state prisons under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are black or Latino, making this a key issue for voters in the upcoming elections.
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ATTENTION TELEVISION JOURNALISTS: Copies of the Spanish -language TV ad with transcriptions in English are available on Beta or VHS by calling Shayna Samuels at 917-544-8268.