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Passage of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Changes Further “Smart on Crime” Sentencing Trend April 19, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national advocacy organization dedicated to reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws, today applauds New York state leaders responsible for approving legislation that substantially overhauls and reforms New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, once the toughest in the nation. FAMM also congratulates the efforts of families, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and advocates who made these changes possible.

The agreement, included as part of the New York budget bill, now awaits Governor David Paterson’s signature.  It will restore judicial discretion in many drug cases, expand drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration, and provide retroactive sentencing relief for people serving prison time for low-level drug offenses.  It also allows approximately 1,500 people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing and increases penalties for "drug kingpins" and adults who sell drugs to young people.

Deborah Fleischaker, director of state legislative affairs of FAMM, issued the following statement in response to today’s news:

"New York’s decision to eliminate its draconian Rockefeller laws marks a step toward policies that are both tough and smart on crime. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are a driving force in skyrocketing prison populations.  Many states and the federal government followed New York’s lead and enacted mandatory minimums in the 1970s and 1980s, believing these "one-size-fits-all" sentences would dry up the drug supply and eliminate drug addiction.  Sadly, mandatory minimums in New York and elsewhere have the opposite effect, filling our prisons with drug addicts instead of drug kingpins, and causing the erosion of faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system because of severe racial disparities caused by these laws.

Being tough on crime is not enough.  States must figure out how to protect public safety, without wasting thousands of lives and millions of dollars.  By repealing the Rockefeller drug laws, New York has just taken an enormous step toward finding that balance.

New York has joined the growing wave of states that recognize the harm caused by mandatory minimum sentencing.  From Michigan’s elimination of most of its drug mandatory minimum laws, to Nevada’s decision to repeal mandatory sentencing enhancements, to Pennsylvania’s decision to have its Sentencing Commission study the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences, states are waking to the idea that mandatory minimum sentences lead to bloated budgets, fail to protect public safety, and are bad criminal justice policy.

Contrary to the claims of those who oppose these reforms, removing the mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes is not "soft on crime."  Politicians need to concern themselves with crafting smart criminal justice policies, instead of settling for the expensive and unworkable status quo.  The New York reforms, though long overdue, are good news for New Yorkers and the rest of the nation.  A recent report by Pew Center on the States shows why.   One in 31 Americans are under some form of criminal justice control – in prison, on probation or on parole – and one in 100 are in prison or jail.  The cost of this overreliance on corrections is staggering – last year it was the fastest expanding major segment of state budgets, and over the past two decades, its growth as a share of state expenditures has been second only to Medicaid. State corrections costs now top $50 billion annually and consume one in every 15 discretionary dollars."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. For more information on FAMM, visit www.famm.org .



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