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NYCLU: State Commission Misses Mark by Ignoring Drug Sentencing Laws

The New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, appointed by Gov. Elliot Spitzer and charged with reviewing New York’s sentencing practices and alternatives to incarceration, today released its preliminary report recommending changes to the state’s sentencing structure. The report makes no recommendations regarding reform of the state’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws — a glaring omission in light of Governor Spitzer’s support for meaningful reform of the state’s drug sentencing laws.

The New York Civil Liberties Union urges an overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of illegal drugs. Intended to target major drug traffickers, the drug laws have instead led to the large-scale incarceration of low-level, nonviolent drug users. In practice, the laws have produced unconscionable racial disparities: blacks and Hispanics comprise more than 90 percent of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies.

The following is attributable to NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“The commission has a historic opportunity to redress the well-documented injustice, racial bias and inefficiency caused by the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It is disappointing that, after nine months of work, the commission is silent about this clear blight to our justice system. We hope the commission’s silence is not reflective of Governor Spitzer’s views, and we call upon the commission to comply with its mandate to ensure the imposition of appropriate and just criminal sanctions.”

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