Assemblyman Heastie leads reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws

Dear Neighbor:

Thirty-five years ago, New York enacted the harshest drug laws in the nation. At that time, many mistakenly believed the only way to combat drug abuse and reduce violent crime was to impose high maximum and mandatory minimum prison sentences. Judges in many cases had no choice but to sentence non-violent, lower-level drug offenders to prison. Further, the drug laws had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, which were unfairly targeted.

Most importantly, those laws failed to curb drug abuse, and so I fought to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws in the recently enacted state budget. In these tough economic times, instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, some of this money will now be used more effectively for treatment, education and job creation in our communities.

Carl E. Heastie
Member of Assembly

Carl E. Heastie

1351 East Gun Hill Road
Bronx, NY 10469
Real reform of state’s ineffective drug laws

Assemblyman Heastie has been noting for years that the Rockefeller Drug Laws failed to effectively combat violent crime or drug use. In 2004, the state began rethinking these rigid laws based on the reality that drug addiction is a disease, for which there are more effective, more compassionate, less costly alternatives to incarceration. The limited reforms put in place then have already saved the state nearly $100 million.

This year, Assemblyman Heastie helped craft a state budget that includes reform of the outdated Rockefeller Drug Laws, making the criminal justice system more effective and fair. The reforms:

Treatment and rehabilitation initiatives offer certain lower-level offenders a second chance and better opportunities to become successful and productive members of the community. Assemblyman Heastie recognizes these strategies can be far more effective at combating substance abuse and the street-level crime associated with it. This smarter approach will also save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The failed Rockefeller Drug Laws have unfairly targeted minorities and cost the state hundreds of million of dollars. These reforms are a giant step forward—no longer will drug addiction be seen solely as a criminal matter, but a public health matter as well. These reforms establish a more just and effective drug policy in the state, while continuing severe punishment for violent offenders, drug kingpins and those who sell drugs to children.”
Assemblyman Heastie
“After 35 years of filling the state’s prisons with drug offenders who needed treatment and disproportionately punishing poor and minority offenders, New York is on the verge of dismantling its infamous Rockefeller drug laws.”

The New York Times, March 9, 2009

“This legislation recognizes the critically important need to provide for judicial discretion – a common sense criminal justice reform that will lead to additional drug treatment opportunities for non-violent drug offenders, saving taxpayers millions of dollars currently being wasted on ineffective and unduly harsh prison sentences.”

Bernice K. Leber, president, New York State Bar Association

“The simple fact is that these laws have not succeeded in reducing drug use, and instead have greatly damaged our communities and society. We applaud the Governor and Legislature for recognizing this reality. In these difficult financial times, reforming the drug laws will also benefit New York by saving over a quarter billion dollars a year when fully implemented.”

Anita Marton, vice president, Legal Action Center