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Yes, 4.5 Ounces Still Brings More Jail Time than Rape


Without Freedom, Reform is Meaningless


by Anthony Papa



font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"> What better way to quell the fire that burns in the hearts of drug war activists in New York than to pass reform that is rumored to effect, in theory, about 1,000 prisoners sentenced under the Rockefeller Drug Laws?

We have fought for meaningful reform for 32 years. In 1973, when the Rockefeller Laws were enacted, we saw a badly created law that incarcerated many drug offenders from the inner city neighborhoods of New York. This in turn, created smart upstate rural politicians like Senator Dale Volker, who saw the Rockefeller Drug Laws as a tool to help make the business of imprisonment a major industry in the 59th Senate District that he presides over. Other politicians followed Volker's lead and thus a reason for not reforming these laws was created.

A staggering 93% of the 16,000 people locked up under the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws are Black and Latino. Many of those incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are people convicted of first-time, non-violent offenses. Under these laws, people convicted of drug offenses face the same penalties as those convicted of murder, and harsher penalties than those convicted of rape.

Through constant political pressure from concerned activists over the course of many years, we managed to get to get the point across to New York politicians: We were not going to give up until the Rockefeller Drug laws were reformed. So, when the pressure mounted, these politicians reacted, as politicians will.

Finally, early in 2005, a revision was made that affected 446 prisoners sentenced under the A-1 felony statute. Activists, feeling their job was done, began backing off. After all those years of fighting, finally a real change had occurred. Now in September of this year, the governor, senate and assembly proudly announced another change that would affect about 540 prisoners sentenced under A-2 felonies.

To those who are not familiar with the history of the struggle and the extent of the changes made, it may seem as though the problem has been fixed. The laws, it seems, had been changed. But, if we take a good look at what really happened, most of the 446 A-1 felons eligible for relief are still in prison. According to the Department of Corrections, as of July, 2005, only 86 were set free from the 184 prisoners who were re-sentenced under the changes.

New York politicians claimed the recent changes to the law amounted to nothing less than sweeping reform. Self-serving feathers in the caps of politicians are nothing new, but, to proclaim that the 32 years of struggle activists have invested to fix these very wrong laws have concluded in meaningful reform is a travesty of justice. Advocates expected the new law to actually be followed so that eligible people could go home, but the re-sentencing process has proved unnecessarily difficult.

In a recent Drug Policy Alliance press release Bill Gibney, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, stated that "These reforms are just symbolic if they're not implemented." "The vast majority of people eligible to petition for early release are still behind bars. The Governor and Legislature shouldn't pat themselves on the back until they've ensured that these reforms are duly acted upon. "Without granting freedom along with reform, the reform remains the same political rhetoric we have heard for years.

As activists and concerned citizens, we cannot sit back and bask in the glory of these recent watered down changes. We must continue to push for meaningful reform that will set free the many thousands of non-violent drug offenders stuck in the prisons of New York State. Without implementing freedom through these recent changes, Rockefeller reform is meaningless.



Anthony Papa is the author of 15 To Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom (Feral House)

Posted January 5, 2006 6:14 AM




Why is the race of those locked up under these laws relevant? It really degrades the venerability of the author in my eyes that there is a need to play the race card to drive the point home, even more so that it is the first reason listed to show that these people should not be in prison. It should be enough argument to point out that they are non-violent first time offenders. Only someone who has guilt caused by, or wants special treatment for, their genes and the associated level of pigment in their skin finds that statistic relevant. The law in question makes no note of the color of skin of the offender in regards to their punishment. Any argument that there is racist treatment should be backed with statistics to show that there are an equal number of police incidents with each race that should result in jail time but far higher conviction rates for the races in question. The author should also note that any information to the affect that the system is racist should be in an article about racism, not an article about how marijuana possession is punished more harshly than rape.

Posted by: Bill at May 9, 2007 9:26 AM



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