Warning: Oppose Rockefeller Reform at Your Own Risk

Press Release September 14, 2004
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth Mendez Berry at (212) 613-8036

Albany county voters made their feelings on the Rockefeller drug laws clear in yesterday’s Democratic primary: the incumbent district attorney, Paul Clyne, one of the most powerful and vociferous supporters of these draconian laws, was trounced by David Soares, who ran on a platform of repealing them. Soares received 62% of the vote to Clyne’s 38%.

“The people of Albany have spoken loud and clear, and all the D.A.s in New York state need to hear them,” said Soares. “The Rockefeller drug laws need to be repealed.” Clyne agreed that the notorious laws were the election’s central issue. “This campaign was won by talking about Rockefeller Drug Laws,” he said as he conceded defeat.

“Real Reform of the Rockefeller drug laws is a winning platform,” said Michael Blain, director of public policy of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Paul Clyne has done everything in his power to prevent reform of these unjust laws. There’s a price to pay for opposing real reform.”

Enacted over thirty years ago, the Rockefeller drug laws remain some of the country’s harshest, incarcerating non-violent first time drug offenders for sentences that range from 15 years to life–longer bids, in many cases, than murderers and rapists receive.

70% of New Yorkers support reform of the notorious Rockefeller drug laws. The state’s most prominent elected officials, including Governor George Pataki and Senate Majority leader Joe Bruno, have given lip service to reform. Newspapers around the state have editorialized in favor of repeal, including, most recently, the New York Post, which changed its stance last week after years of supporting the laws. Yet despite near universal condemnation of these laws, Republican state leaders have refused to support meaningful reform.

The most powerful voice against reform is that of the state’s prosecutors and D.A.s, who have a strong interest in maintaining the status quo, which puts the power to decide sentences in the hands of prosecutors, not judges. D.A.s have used their considerable political clout to prevent any real reform from taking place.

Many states have similarly harsh mandatory minimum sentences, propped up by self-interested D.A.s. These sentences have increasingly come under fire, as state budgets shrink and prisons overflow. Drug policy reform advocates hope that the Albany D.A. race will reverberate around the country. “It is historic that a district attorney was defeated because of his support of draconian drug laws,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “All ‘Lock ‘Em Up, Throw Away the Key’ D.A.s should take notice of what just happened to Paul Clyne. There will be consequences for people who advocate inhumane and ineffective laws.”

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

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