Although federal sentencing reform has been a hot topic of discussion for the past several weeks, some states have been working towards a more reasonable approach to dealing with non-violent drug offenders for some time.
Earlier last week, officials with the New York Department of Corrections announced that the state has released all but 67 of those inmates imprisoned under the controversial Rockefeller drug laws.
Over 40 years ago, just as President Richard Nixon unleashed the dogs of the drug war, then New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller put his signature on a bill making it mandatory for anyone caught in possession of four or more ounces of cocaine, heroin, or even cannabis to be sentenced to 15 years to life in a state penitentiary.
Fortunately, marijuana was removed from this unjust policy in 1979, and the scope of the law was later relaxed, ultimately contributing to the closing of several prisons.
A report in the New York Post indicates that due to policy changes in 2005 and 2009, which eliminated Rockefeller’s mandatory minimum, 1,630 out of the 1,697 drug offenders that applied for early release have since been sent home. Those who remain are only reportedly still behind bars because their offenses included a weapons possession charge or some other major crime.
Fifteen years ago, drug crimes lined the New York prison system — 32 percent of the entire inmate population was doing time because of dope. Yet, in 2011, those numbers fell substantially, with only 15 percent of the inmates being incarcerated over drug crimes — down from 22,315 to 8,564.
“New York’s Rockefeller drug laws were some of the toughest in the country,” said Megan C. Kurlychek, a professor at SUNY Albany’s school of criminal justice. “Relaxing those mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has had a significant impact.”
Joseph Persico, one of Governor Rockefeller’s leading aides, said back in 2013 that staffer’s told Rockefeller that his concept sounded “a bit severe,” but he never once expressed any reservations over the policy. To him it was all about preventing the push of drugs and protecting the innocent victim… whoever that may be.