(FinalCall.com) – The New York State Rockefeller Drug Laws, which for the past 36 years required mandatory long prison terms of up to 15 years to life for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs, are history.
“I have been fighting to overhaul the drug laws and restore judicial discretion in narcotics cases since I began my career in public service as a state senator nearly a quarter-century ago,” Gov. David Paterson said March 27.
The governor added: “I have seen too many lives destroyed by outrageously harsh and ineffective mandatory sentencing laws, and I have also seen too many lives ruined by despicable dealers who prey on the vulnerabilities and addictions of others. I believe this agreement strikes the right balance, and I urge the Legislature to enact it immediately, before more lives and communities are needlessly destroyed.”
Early in March the New York state House approved a bill repealing the laws; next it is up to the Senate to do the same. The governor has been a chief supporter of the bill and worked with legislators to come to an agreement.
The repeal of the laws is a victory for community activists who witnessed and experienced the legal system’s destructive impact.
“Ending the Rockefeller Drug Laws is a great victory for the hip-hop community,” declared hip hop guru and entrepreneur Russell Simmons. “We worked hard, turned up the volume on this issue and rejuvenated and broadened the coalition, but it was hip-hop artists like Diddy, JayZ and 50 Cent that gave this movement for change the power to wake people up and to get the politicians to do the right thing.”
The repeal eliminates mandatory minimum prison sentences, expands drug treatment programs and allows first time non-violent offenders to be diverted to treatment instead of prison.
For almost four decades men and women who needed drug treatment were jailed for as long as 20 years, torn from families and left children to navigate the foster care system.
The law was especially punitive for Blacks and women.In New York by 1990, 61.2 percent of all female prisoners were committed for a drug offense.Blacks and Latinos constituted 94.2 percent of the total population of drug felons in New York, Whites were 5.3 percent.
According to NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, the effort to end the ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key policies’ that resulted in the U.S. jailing more citizens than any other industrialized country can claim a significant victory.
“This moment reflects an important window in our history,” said Mr. Jealous.
Mr. Simmons sees this as the first step in a possible national campaign. It is time “to work around the country to end the unjust drug laws in numerous other states and on the federal level. This is about changing the direction in this country for a more just and fair judicial system.”