Back to All Commentary

Letter: Reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws Long Overdue (Albany Times-Union)

To the editor:

The Supreme Court rulings on federal sentencing affirms an important principle: The authority to impose a criminal sentence ultimately lies with the judge.

It is time for the state Legislature to embrace this principle and restore judicial discretion to judges in cases involving drug offenses. Intended to target major drug traffickers, New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws have compelled judges to incarcerate low-level, nonviolent drug users.

Perhaps more disturbing is the impact these laws are having on communities of color: Blacks and Hispanics comprise more than 90 percent of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies — far out of proportion to their actual involvement with drugs. The state’s harsh mandatory sentencing scheme has neither curbed drug use nor enhanced public safety. Instead, it has destroyed thousands of lives and wasted limited tax dollars.

Judges must have the authority to determine sentences on a case-by-case basis and to consider treatment and rehabilitation as alternatives to incarceration. Time is long past due for reform of New York’s draconian drug-sentencing laws.

Donna Lieberman
Robert Perry

The writers are, respectively, executive director and legislative director, New York Civil Liberties Union.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union