Rockefeller Drug Laws to be Addressed at New York Sentencing Commission Public Hearing on Tuesday

Press Release November 8, 2007
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646)335-5384 or Mike Cummings at (212)607-3368

The Sentencing Commission, established by Gov. Elliot Spitzer, is tasked with reforming New York’s convoluted and complex sentencing system. The Commission’s recently-released preliminary report, however, did not include any substantive recommendations for reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, despite previous claims that the laws were a top priority. Responding to public pressure, the Commission will be holding public hearings on Tuesday, November 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to allow the New Yorkers to weigh in on the need for Rockefeller Drug Law reform.

Family members of those impacted by the Rockefeller Drug Laws, treatment providers and religious leaders will be holding a pre-commission press conference at 9 a.m. outside the hearings and then a 12:30 p.m. rally.

Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers (kingpins), most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record.

Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue to deny people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and do not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. Nearly 14,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population, costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

“True overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws requires the restoration of judicial discretion in all drug cases, the expansion of alternative-to-incarceration programs, reductions in the length of sentences for all drug offenses, and retroactive sentencing relief for all prisoners currently incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Commission knows what needs to be done. They must take the steps necessary to do it.”

“My son did not benefit from the so-called reforms of 2004,” said Cheri O’Donoghue, who’s son, Ashley, is incarcerated for 7 — 21 years on a first-time, nonviolent offense. “When do families like ours finally get justice? The Commission’s mandate is clear–the status quo has failed, and we need comprehensive reform.”

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

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