Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Becomes Active Today: 1,500 Incarcerated People Eligible for Resentencing and Release, Judges Now Have Discretion

Press Release October 6, 2009
Media Contact

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

New York- On Wednesday, October 7, key elements of the Rockefeller Drug Law reform go into effect: Decision making authority is returned to judges, who can now divert people suffering from drug dependency into treatment and other service programs, instead of prison. And nearly 1,500 people currently incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses under the Rockefeller Drug Laws can petition the court for resentencing and, if approved by a judge, will be released.

After Governor David Paterson signed the reforms into law earlier this year, advocates and service providers have worked diligently to prepare for implementation. Legal aid and public defender agencies are providing legal counsel. Hundreds of social and human agencies around the state have volunteered to provide a broad range of services to those individuals who will be released from prison as a result of drug law reform. In New York City alone, over 100 human service agencies have agreed to work with legal aid and public defender agencies to provide services like housing, job training and drug treatment to those individuals returning from prison as a result of drug law reform.

“As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed,” said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. “But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell.”

“New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and we finally succeeded this year,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform.”

“Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme,” said Shreya Mandal, Mitigation Specialist for the Legal Aid Society. “These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning.”

Governor Paterson will be marking the milestone at an event at 10 a.m. at the Brooklyn Court House, 320 Jay St., Room 283. In addition to the Governor, two drug court graduates will speak at the event.

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

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