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Harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws Relaxed – QNS.com

Harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws Relaxed

When Beatrice Rivers heard that the New York State legislature reduced sentencing limits under the 1970s-era Rockefeller drug laws last week, frustration quickly replaced hope that her son might come home soon.
"If he comes home, hes got to start all over from scratch," said Rivers. Repealing parts of the harshest drug laws in the country will not replace a life wasted, she said. "Ive got nothing, hes got nothing."
Since 1989, Rivers, a resident of Flushing, has sent letters to the governor and rallied in Albany with other mothers of incarcerated drug offenders for the release of her son, Ronald Rivers. He is serving 20 years to life for possessing four ounces of cocaine.
His sentence is the same as that for murder, kidnapping or arson, and longer than most sentences for rape, robbery and manslaughter. After 18 years in prison, his marriage ended, his two children nearly grown, and all their money spent on lawyers fees, Rivers said Tuesdays decision to reduce required sentences for drug felonies comes too late for their family.
Leaders in the fight against the Rockefeller drug laws echoed her dissatisfaction, calling Tuesdays legislation to reduce drug felony sentences from 20-to-life to eight-to-20 years a small victory. Opponents of Rockefeller say the laws that remain intact are still too extreme.
"This is but a first step," said Queens Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, chair of the Corrections Committee who has sponsored several bills to repeal the laws established in the 1970s under former Governor Nelson Rockefeller. He praised the compromise among lawmakers who voted to reduce sentences in the final hours of this years session, but said, "There is more work to do."
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno lauded the reform, however, saying in a statement that the new laws would encourage drug treatment and give judges more flexibility. "This bill emphasizes drug treatment and other prison alternatives and allows for re-sentencing of people still in prison for low-level drug crimes, while toughening sanctions against violent drug offenders," said Bruno.
Critics say the remaining Rockefeller laws still give judges little room to adjust sentences for individual cases. Judges cannot reduce sentences below the mandatory minimum when considering a defendants background or level of involvement in drug dealing. Neither are judges allowed to replace prison time with drug treatment. Instead, Tuesdays law promotes drug treatment during the incarceration period.
"Its a good start," said Ann Jacobs, director of the Women in Prison Association. But there are still flaws in the system, said Jacobs. "We lock up too many people, for too long."
Tamar Kraft-Stolar, of the Correctional Association, a prison-reform organization, agreed. They support allowing judicial discretion in sentencing, saying it would save the state money by reducing prison populations and rehabilitating drug users to become productive members of society.
"Lawmakers are on the right track," said Kraft-Stolar. "This small step can be a wedge to bring the wall down."
sarah@queenscourier.com

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