NYS Legislature Passes Historic Rockefeller Drug Law Reform, Bill Now Awaits Governor

Press Release April 2, 2009
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264

ALBANY- Last night, the New York State Senate passed historic reforms to the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, just days after the Assembly passed the same reforms. The legislation now awaits Governor David Paterson’s signature to become law. The bill enacts broad reforms to the long-failed Rockefeller Drug Laws, including restoring judicial discretion in most drug cases, expanding drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration, and investing millions in treatment. Advocates had worked for years for the reforms.

“This historic reform shows what is possible when people come together and work for change,” said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Families of those in prison for drug offenses, people who were formerly incarcerated, treatment professionals, lawyers, advocates, judges, Russell Simmons and the Hip-hop community, editorial boards and columnists, and tens of thousands of others in New York raised their collective voices and called on our elected officials to end the tragic Rockefeller Drug Laws. This confirms that if the people lead, our leaders will follow.”

There were a number of elected officials who heard the demand for change and have championed Rockefeller reform in Albany. Senator Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) led the effort to pass the bill in the Senate. Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) led the fight in the Assembly. Together with their colleagues, including Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assm. Joe Lentol, the Legislature passed the historic reforms. Governor Patterson has also been a leading voice on reforming the draconian drug laws, first as a State Senator from Harlem and now as the Governor of New York. His signature is needed for the reforms to become law.

“After many years of fighting these laws from behind bars and as a free individual I am grateful that we have finally achieved meaningful reform” said Anthony Papa, communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance who served 12 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. “Now, it’s time to embrace the changes and set free those who have been imprisoned under harsh and unjust mandatory sentencing, allowing individuals who are eligible for judicial relief to be reunited with their families and start productive lives as citizens of New York.”

Passage of the bills comes just a week after Governor Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver held a press conference to announce an agreement to reform the laws. The historic announcement was met with wide praise and support, in New York and around the country.

“For too long New York and the Rockefeller Drug Laws were models of what is wrong. It is now time to show that New York can be a model of what is right,” said Sayegh. “Hopefully states that followed our bad example and adopted mandatory minimums will be inspired to follow our good example and dismantle them. It’s time for a new approach.”

Details of the new law include:

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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