Reformers Say Pataki Drug Law Proposal "A First Step"

Jan 18, 2001

Rochester, NY – Some long-time opponents of the Rockefeller drug laws say Governor Pataki's proposal to reform those laws is a good first step. But they say the state will have to pay for a lot more drug abuse treatment capacity if it wants to put fewer people in prison. Governor Pataki has proposed a 10-point reform package that re-targets enforcement against major drug dealers and violent offenders who use guns. It would cut the minimum prison term on drug users and some repeat offenders who are arrested for carrying drugs. Anita Martin is an attorney with the Legal Action Center, a public interest group which has challenged the laws in court. She says the Governor's plan is chipping away at what she believes is a key problem with the Rockefeller-era drug laws, but doesn't go far enough. Martin says the Rockefeller laws force judges to hand out stiff sentences for non-violent offenders, and doesn't allow them to consider the circumstances of the offense. Governor Pataki's proposal would give judges more discretion, but Martin doesn't think it's enough. Martin says Pataki's plan won't help the majority of addicts who sell small quantities of drugs to support their own habits. She says allowingjudges to force them into treatment for their addiction would help. The Campaign for Effective Criminal Justice also says Governor Pataki's plan doesn't give judges enough discretion on sentencing. The group says sentencing reform should be retroactive, so inmates currently sentenced under the Rockefeller laws could petition for review of their cases.