After 36 years, New York State has finally repealed the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The end has seemed near ever since the Democratic Party took over the New York State Senate this year for the first time in more than 45 years. It became official late last week when Governor Paterson signed the long-awaited repeal bill.
Laws That Needed to Be Repealed
The Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted in 1973 and mandated that New Yorkers who were found guilty of possessing illegal drugs be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. The Rockefeller Drug Laws were designed to equate drug possession (a non-violent crime) with second-degree murder. In fact, there have been a number of New Yorkers who were imprisoned as first time offenders under the Rockefeller Drug Laws and who then saw those convicted of murdering their loved ones enter and leave prison before they left prison themselves as first-time, non-violent offenders.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws were abused by law enforcement and prosecutors to imprison a large number of young people of color for long periods of time despite their lack of a criminal record or any hint of violence. Ninety percent of those imprisoned in New York State under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are Black or latino despite the fact that white New Yorkers represent 73% of drug users in New York State.
That warrants repeating.
NINETY PERCENT of those imprisoned under New York's drug laws are Black or latino, but 73% of drug users are not Black or latino. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have been an excuse to imprison young people of color and have not been used to abuse the white population in the way that they have been used to abuse communities of color in New York State.
Elections Have Consequences
We argued prior to the November 2008 elections that New Yorkers needed to give the Democrats control of the New York State Senate in order to get legislative reform and other improvements in Albany. One of the key benefits of the victory that the Democrats achieved in November in New York State is the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
It could not have happened without that Democratic victory, and it happened as a direct result of the votes we cast in November.
Fiscal Conservatism Supported Repeal
The repeal of the Rockefeller Drug laws will save hundreds of millions of dollars each year. New York State spends more than one half of a billion dollars each year to imprison non-violent drug offenders, and the reduction in the volume those incarcerations coupled with the reduced prison population that results from the retroactivity of the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws will dramatically reduce New York State's expenditures on prisons. That reduction in spending will allow New York State to avoid some cuts in services and reduces the amount of increased taxation that New York State must undertake in order to balance its budget.
Praise for Albany - For A Change
New York State's elected officials are rarely praised, and often, the lack of praise is appropriate in light of the performance we see in Albany. The repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws shows that Albany can make the changes we need; Albany can make change quickly, and Albany can succeed despite heavy opposition from well organized groups (such as the District Attorneys in the case of the Rockefeller Drug Laws).