Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264
New York – New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor, Bridget Brennan, is expected to release a report soon which demonizes Rockefeller Drug Law reform, falsely suggesting that Rockefeller Drug Law reforms have enabled “kingpins” and people with murder convictions to be “set free.” This move is seen by advocates as a politically-motivated move to halt further reform of New York’s failed drug laws.
“The Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed. Period,” said Gabriel Sayegh, director of the State Organizing and Policy Project for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Everyone, including the New York State Senate and the district attorneys, knows that the sentences are inhumane, that imprisonment does nothing to curb drug addiction, and that these laws are a form of legalized racism. So for the Manhattan DA’s office to issue a report saying the limited reform have gone ‘too far’ is not only disingenuous, it illustrates just how willing they are to undermine justice in the service of repugnant political posturing.”
What the report does not detail, however, is that less than 30 percent of those eligible for resentencing have been released under the modest reforms, and that the limited reforms regarding drug sentences in no way gives judges the authority to change a sentence for a violent felony offense such as murder. What the prosecutors know, but don’t admit, is that people convicted of violent offenses are not normally released under these reforms, unless there is a deal with prosecutors.
“New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor, and other prosecutors, have been misleading the public because the people convicted of murder are not going to get out of prison under the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms,” said Bill Gibney of the Legal Aid Society. “If someone is serving time for another crime, especially a violent crime, they’ll have to serve that time. The small reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Law will not enable them to get out early.”
The reforms passed in 2004 and 2005 by the New York Legislature allowed only those imprisoned for A1 and A2 felonies to apply for resentencing under the new sentencing guidelines. Thousands of people incarcerated because of possession of small amounts of drugs were not eligible for resentencing under the reforms.
“The DA’s have resorted to making misleading and inaccurate statements to make their case because they don’t want to give up their power,” Sayegh said. “One of the biggest tragedies of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is that they make a mockery of our judicial system by letting district attorneys have the discretion in the case. We’ve taken two steps forward with the small reforms, but we have several more steps to go.”
Over the past three years, there has been a growing movement towards repeal of the failed Rockefeller Drug Laws, including growing support for repeal amongst prosecutors themselves. In 2004, Albany County district attorney candidate David Soares ran in part on a Rockefeller repeal platform and beat the incumbent DA. In 2005, repeal candidate Gwen Wilkinson staged a remarkable upset over the incumbent Tompkins County district attorney. In recent polls, over 83 percent of New York residents said they think the Rockefeller Drug Laws should be repealed.
The New York Legislature adjourned last Friday with no action by the Senate to advance Rockefeller Drug Law reform. The Assembly passed a reform bill, A9098, which expand sentencing reform. Despite assurances to push for further reform from Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, the bill was not taken up by the Senate.