LEGISLATURE REFORMS THE
DRACONIAN ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS
“The reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws are obviously much-needed and
long overdue. More people will receive the drug treatment and other services
they need to get their lives back on track.”
In a battle which has lasted over thirty-five years, New York State residents finally triumphed over
the arcane and ineffective Rockefeller Drug Laws. The laws, which created severe mandatory
minimum sentences for first time drug sale offenders and removed judicial discretion from the
equation, were signed into law under Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1976. Since then, communities
have suffered immensely due to the ignorance of these laws to the true nature of the drug problem
in our society. African-Americans and Latinos make up 90% of the state prison population under
sentences for drug offenses, while studies show that the rate of illicit drug use for African-Americans
is just 8.7% and for Latinos just 7.2%.
Assemblyman Wright debating in favor of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform in the State Assembly Chamber.
The reform legislation will: restore sentencing discretion to judges, make probation a sentencing option,
expand substance abuse treatment options and provide a framework for the successful reentry of drug
offenders into society after completing their sentences. All first time drug offenders convicted of class E
through B felonies would be probation eligible. Additionally, this reform will save the State of New York
hundreds of millions of dollars due to the immense sums of money needed to incarcerate offenders. “This
reform ends the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the drug war, which has plagued Harlem and other communities
of color at exponential costs. No longer will these indiscretions and lapses in judgment cost our neighborhoods
the ultimate price, the loss of a family member to a harsh penal code. Under the new programs, the drug war
will not be waged by our police force, but by our health community, as drug use is truly an illness and should
be treated as such,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright.
“The reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws are obviously much-needed and long overdue. More people will
receive the drug treatment and other services they need to get their lives back on track, fewer communities
will be impacted by mass incarceration, and our justice system will work a bit better. Thanks to Assemblyman
Wright and his colleagues in the Assembly and Senate, New York is taking a new direction by advancing a public
health and safety approach to drug policy,” said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Organizing and Policy Project
Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
ASSEMBLY SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE
SPEARHEADS EFFORT TO RAISE
PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT AND PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRANT RECIPIENTS
As Chairman of the State Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services, Assemblyman
Keith L.T. Wright successfully engineered the first increase of the public assistance grant in
over eighteen years. The increase, 30% over the next three years, will help families receiving
public assistance make ends meet and put food on the table. Working alongside Governor
Paterson, Assemblyman Wright ensured that this proposal made it into the budget, bringing
almost $175 million to our suffering families just next year, despite fiscal belt-tightening and
cuts across the board. “For the first time in almost two decades, our families in desperate
want of assistance are getting a little more help from our state. While this increase does not
solve the problem of poverty in our state and in my opinion does not go far enough to help our
struggling families, it is a good start. I have successfully championed the issue of increasing
the public assistance grant since I became Chairman of the Social Services Committee in
2007 and I will ensure that the State Assembly keeps fighting for critical increases,” said
Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright.
In addition to increasing the public assistance grant, Assemblyman Wright is working hard
to ensure that public assistance recipients have the opportunity to transition to well paying
careers. The Welfare to Careers Consortium program is just one such opportunity that
Assemblyman Wright was able to insert into the budget. This program, which will directly aid
New York City residents, is a joint venture on behalf of Metropolitan College, Medgar Evers
College, Pace University and the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
The goal of the project is to develop and implement a welfare-to-work project that links educational
opportunities to internships and job placements. The Consortium affords participants the opportunity
to earn their two-year degree or a baccalaureate degree, thereby greatly increasing their chances of
gaining permanent, full-time employment at a sustainable salary level.
To make certain that public assistance recipients have the opportunity to gain much needed higher
education, without negative implications to their public assistance eligibility, Assemblyman Wright
has introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1827) to allow individuals receiving
public assistance to use their attendance of college to substitute as some of their work requirement.
This solves a problem which has confronted public assistance recipients for far too long, wherein they
are forced to choose between dead-end work and upward mobility through education. “It is simply not
fair that our families have to forego education to receive public assistance. The biggest public
assistance that exists is higher education, and once we educate our residents, we will truly be able
to raise our neighborhoods out of poverty and into financial success,” said Assemblyman Wright.
THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IS
EDUCATED THROUGH COMMUNITY INPUT
Assemblyman Wright speaking at the dedication of the Terence D. Tolbert Educational Complex in
Harlem. Terence Tolbert was the former Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Wright for many years, he
passed away while serving as State Director of President Obama’s victorious presidential campaign
As many people in Northern Manhattan will tell you, our public schools are the backbone of our
community. Our parents, teachers, administrators, and students work tirelessly, striving to achieve
an equal part of the American dream. When the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”)
announced recently that it was scaling back plans to phase out P.S. 194 and P.S. 241, it was a major
step forward in the relationship between those dedicated to the success of these schools and the New
York City Department of Education.
Since the State Legislature authorized Mayoral Control of New York City Schools in 2002, parents have
complained time and time again that their needs and requests were ignored by a Department more
concerned with test scores than overall scholastic success. Public schools have been reconstituted
with little notification to parents, some charter schools promising parents results have failed, and the
DOE kept parental input to the bare minimum. Despite this history, when the DOE announced in late
2008 that they had a plan to reconstitute these neighborhood schools, the parents, teachers,
administrators, and wider community joined together in opposition to what they believed to be a
negligent strategy emanating from the DOE.
Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright with Susan Taylor of Essence Magazine.
In the case of P.S. 194, the students and teachers had been forced to go through three unsatisfactory
principals in four years, then after the test scores dropped, they were informed that their school would
be closed. The strategy of the DOE was akin to starving a plant of water and sunlight, then blaming
poor soil for the death of the plant. Fortunately for the students of P.S. 194, the new Principal is
committed to the ultimate success of the school and now she will have a chance to bring the promised
success home to Harlem, as the DOE is allowing P.S. 194 to accept new students.
Over at P.S. 241, there is a different story in the making. While the DOE is allowing the school to accept
new students this year, their intentions for next year and commitment to supporting the school remain
unclear. Its commitment to accommodating a charter at this location is indisputable. While P.S. 194 is
able to accommodate the charter school due to Department’s claim of excess space, P.S. 241’s future
is in question in order to accomplish this transfer, another questionable strategy.
Assemblyman Keith Wright being taught a few things at the grand opening of the
ATTAIN Computer Lab at Grant Houses.
Whether schools are conventional or charter, parents want excellent educational opportunities for their
children. That being said, DOE must nurture and support our local neighborhood schools just as it
encourages the success of charters. One must not occur at the cost of the other. Only a robust public
education system that allows equal access to all students can act as society’s equalizer and offer all
children a road to the American Dream. We must raise the standards of all our public schools instead
of moving in a different direction that ultimately widens the gap in educational equity.
The cases of P.S. 241 and P.S. 194 are ultimately promising. They show that the Department of
Education is willing to listen to parents, teachers, and students and is also committed to ensuring
that children have access to community zoned schools, which allows for higher rates of parental
involvement and provides a true base for community. This ability to listen and learn will reap great
dividends for our city, if it is continued. This is why, prior to the reauthorization of Mayoral Control,
we must ensure that our parents have an equal and vociferous place at the bargaining table. Parents
are the strongest advocates our children have and we must ensure that their input is taken seriously
by the Department of Education, now and in the future.
ASSEMBLYMAN WRIGHT QUADRUPLES FUNDING OF
CAREER PATHWAYS PROGRAM AND ESTABLISHES GREEN PATHWAYS
OUT OF POVERTY PROGRAM
In response to over 50% of black males being unemployed in New York City and countless other
Harlem residents being severely underemployed, Assemblyman Wright has made workforce
development a major goal of the State Assembly Social Services Committee. The Career Pathways
program, the first of its kind and funded in 2008, is a collaboration between the New York State Office
of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the Department of Labor, and is designed to improve the
economic prospects of low-income workers throughout the State.
Career Pathways links basic education to occupational training and, when combined with integrated
support services, enables participants to advance over time to higher level education and training in
pursuit of ‘living wage’ employment. Targeted audiences for this initiative are: public assistance
recipients, young adults, low wage workers and households with incomes at or below 200% of the
federal poverty level. “These programs are organized as a series of steps that lead participants
towards employment with industry recognized credentials, certificates and licenses. These
accreditations will allow for a more mobile and adaptable workforce, something that is especially
important during these tough fiscal times. I am happy to have been able to find $10 million in funding
to bolster these important programs,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright.
Taking a cue from President Obama, Assemblyman Wright also funded with $5 million a program to
facilitate the development of a ‘green workforce’. Green Pathways Out of Poverty, funded through the
New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, is a program designed to get low-income
and at-risk populations into the job market within a burgeoning field.
Working much like the Career Pathways program, this will guide New York residents out of poverty and
into a growing and sustainable workforce. “Currently, the New York City metropolitan area ranks first in
the nation in green jobs, with a predicted 10% job market growth in thirty years. It is an absolute
necessity for Harlem residents to become involved in this emerging market, especially with the high
levels of unemployment in our community and the stable and high paying jobs that this market offers.
President Obama has made Green Jobs a priority of his administration and we should make it a priority
of our neighborhoods,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright
“After 24 years of hitting new milestones and getting the hard-to-employ connected to the workforce,
STRIVE has now jumped firmly into ‘green’ with a unique ‘Green Jobs’ training program. The fact that
our program was used as the model for New York State’s new Green Job Corps program (a $7 million
initiative) is a clear sign of STRIVE’s success as an innovator in serving communities of color – not only
in program design, but also in laying the groundwork for major policy changes. The thing we’ve grappled
with over the past few years, but have now resolved, is this issue of getting at-risk and disconnected folks
reconnected and motivated to gain the skills needed to compete for good jobs. To the extent that they can
now acquire complex skill sets for jobs in high-demand sectors, like green construction and environmental
remediation is, in my experience, a real paradigm shift in workforce development,” said Rob Carmona,
President of STRIVE, Inc.
STATE BUDGET INCREASES
ANTI-HOMELESSNESS PROGRAM FUNDING
While many States across the Nation are cutting services to the most needy, New York State has taken
an active and vigorous approach to fighting the effects of the looming recession. As Chairman of the State
Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright has made
homelessness prevention a priority. In the 2009-2010 State budget, he more than doubled the funding
of emergency homeless services from last year’s rate. The funds provide capital and operational support
for shelters, and other services for the homeless.
Assemblyman Keith Wright with Governor David A. Paterson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, announcing the expansion of food stamp availability in New York State.
Additionally, the State legislature raised the Supplemental Homeless Intervention program funding by 20%.
This program keeps those individuals threatened with eviction and subsequent homelessness in their
apartments as they try to figure out their finances. “With more than 100,000 residents of New York City
experiencing homelessness every year, now is the time to ensure that we as a State take the steps
necessary to protect our most vulnerable individuals. While the current funding is not nearly enough to
solve the homelessness problem in our City and State, we must do what we can to help. I will diligently
work to ensure that funding is increased to combat the rising tide of homelessness in our City,” said
Approximately 90% of homeless New Yorkers are African-American or Latino and families make up 78%
of the homeless shelter population. To change these disparities, Assemblyman Wright restored the funding
to the Supportive Housing to Families program in this year’s budget. Supportive Housing funding helps
homeless families in our community find permanent and safe residence within our City and helps keep
our children in school and our parents at work. “We must invest on the prevention side of the homelessness
equation, as every penny we invest to ensure that our families do not become homeless, ultimately saves our
State large amounts of money in other social services and programs that we are constitutionally mandated to
provide,” said Assemblyman Wright.
Room 844, Legislative Office Building • Albany, NY 12248 • 518-455-4793
Harlem State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, Suite 911, New York,
NY 10027 • 212-866-5809