“Rockefeller Drug Laws”
In May of 1973, New York’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, made a set of strict anti-drug laws for the state legislature. The purpose of these laws was to stop the drug abuse epidemic that was occurring in New York during the early 1970’s. It was the most severe law in the nation; the drug laws were to punish those who possessed and sold heavy amounts of narcotics like cocaine and heroine and to hold them in custody for the amount they possessed or sold. For example, if the person was caught with the possession of two or four ounces of drugs on them the minimum time in a federal prison would be 15 years to life, no matter what age (if the offender was of 15 years of age or older). Many problems began to occur concerning the laws, also there were many critiques concerning weather or not it would work and be kept as a law.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws is still one of the most brutal drug laws in the nation because of its ground breaking punishments. The laws state specifically that, “the statutes require judges to impose a sentence of 15-years to life for anyone convicted of selling two ounces, or possessing four ounces of “narcotic drugs”. This made it clear for all those that were “dealing drugs” that this was a no-nonsense rule. This was the beginning of up coming events in history that lead to protests and also very famous summits done by family members of people in prison under the unfair ruling, friends and supports of those against the harsh laws to keep drugs off the streets.
The purpose of the laws was to provide protection and isolation from people who were not yet involved with the drug epidemic. Also, it provided peace of mind for politicians that wanted to get the drug dealers off the streets permanently. For New York the drug war had just begun. Many people were for the new laws; they saw drug dealing as if it were just like murder because the death rate from narcotics at the time was increasingly high and the danger of the drugs being on the streets was worse. The consequences of these laws have become even exaggeratedly ridiculous. In many cases a first time drug offender being charged under these laws can receive a higher sentencing then a person convicted of murder or rape. This meant that by possessing a kilo of cocaine or heroine you would be in jail for more time then a person that basically kills someone for fun.
The drug laws became even worse when space in prisons were becoming minimum and the expense to keep someone in prison was becoming more expensive. The prison business was getting more popular by the minute and even more expensive. The price to keep a drug offender in prison was more then doubled. The General Fund State Operations budget for New York State prisons went from 10% to 25% in a year (1982-83). This was more money then New York had ever spent for imprisonment of drug offenders. There were 8,880 drug offenders in NYS prisons under the Rockefeller Drug Laws in December of 1997 only. According to the Correctional Association of New York, it costs an estimated $265 million dollars to pay for these prisoners to be incarcerated. There was also an additional 12,102 drug offenders in NYS prisons under the Second Felony Offender Law, costing an estimated $360 million per year. In total there was an estimate of 22,670 drug offenders in the NYS prison system, showing a 33% of the total prison population. Compared to the estimate shown in 1980 when there was only 9%.
Not only is it becoming expensive to keep someone incarcerated, but also the population shown in these prisons is also outrageous. The effect that the laws have had on people was more towards minorities and women. Minorities were the biggest offenders in NYS prisons under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The number of racial gaps had increased from having 33,000 people in prison under the drug law and 35% of them were blacks, Hispanics, and other racial nationality other then white. Women are at an even higher rate of incarceration than men. In an early study to determine the percentage of women prisoners under the law the results were devastating. The percentage had increased to 61.2% of all female prisoners from under the laws from a 33%. The rate of the court commitments in January of 1987 thru December was 98.9% females versus 33.5% males.
This was becoming a crisis close to home to everyone. It was an issue that concerned people that didn’t even have or know anyone incarcerated, the reason was because of the costs. New York was spending all this money to keep offenders in prison but the people paying for it were the citizens. Taxes had gone higher to pay for new construction work to be done in prisons for more space and to keep them locked up for their sentencing. It cost $100,000 to keep 40 inmates in jail a year and prices weren’t about to drop. New York saw the last straw to this problem and protests to the unfair law began. Many judges and politicians began to meet and rebel at the State Legislature to either put an end to the law or break it down. After some much trouble and problems with the law from prisoners being miss treated and sentenced unfair the laws were about to take a drastic change in almost 10 years. People protested and things were changed. Marijuana was dropped from an ounce; to not serve under the law, 7.5% of an ounce became legal with six months of imprisonment for a first time offender. Finally the laws were still unfair but becoming more reasonable then they had been for the past ten years.
This issue of the drug laws can be more fair like having more first time offenders in the Shock Programs, these programs are for privileged offenders, minors, and first time offenders. Since offenders also get imprisoned for the first time probation after a certain amount of years should be granted to them because serving 15 to life for driving with someone who possesses an ounce of cocaine without you knowing is very exaggerated and ridiculous. By putting more programs and taking fewer years it can make a difference in incarceration. Giving a 15 to life is just an absurd way of trying to keep the city free from drugs. Besides people make mistakes and should be granted a second opportunity. A first time offender shouldn’t be charge the Same way one, another who has been offended before for other reason.
My opinion on “Drug dealing” is that, yes a person who is caught dealing should be punish for it, however I don’t think they should be punished as if they had killed someone. In some circumstances “drug dealers” get more time in prison then a person who committed a crime. Committing a crime and dealing are very different from each other. Killing a person, you are choosing the death for someone, while dealing, you are providing a chooser to continue their habits. Many say that if drug dealers wouldn’t be providing the choosers to buy drugs from them, there will be less delinquency and problems. However, I feel this is a false statement because I feel a drug dealer is making it easier for a user to get the drug, but I feel that even if the drug dealer weren’t around to provide, the users would get it elsewhere. “Society secretly wants crime, needs crime, and gains definite satisfactions from the mishandling of it”. Another way I look at the selling of drug, is that yes its illegal, but we have to understand that not everyone is the same. What I fine an ideal job someone else may not. If a person is dealing is not because they want to cause harm, is because they want to make money. Many dealers fine dealing an ideal job. I feel that not everyone that deals should be sentence to prison. Just because a first time offender is carrying a certain amount of kilograms, they are sentences according to that. This is injustice because a person who may have committed other minor crimes may be charged the same way as a person who made a mistake for the first time. Besides that sentencing everyone that makes a crime is extremely expensive. People who don’t have any type of connections with people who are place in prison have to be paying money to maintain them in prison.
As we all know, drug dealing is still going on and it won’t be stopping any time soon. As you have read, even though the Rockefeller Drug Laws had so much demands upon it, still many continued to do it. In the article we read in class “Criminal Justice through the looking Glass, or winning by losing” illustrates how effective laws aren’t. one thing he says “I will not go so far to say that the criminal justice policy has made no contribution to the drop in crime rates.” Therefore, crime will always continue and what we should be worrying about is how to help these individuals who are making these crimes.