Rockefeller Drug Laws
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The problem of drug in America cannot be overstated. Estimates suggest that 12.8 million Americans, equivalent to 6% of the population aged 12 years and above use illegal drugs on a regular basis. This is a great improvement on the 1970’s all time high. In 1979 the number of regular illegal drug users was 25 million indicating that the number has fallen by 50 percent since then. This is a great achievement. It therefore follows that the problem of drugs was at its peak in the 1970s and authorities were looking for every way to reduce the problem (Wilson par5). The Rockefeller Drug Laws can be understood from these perspective- harsh laws designed to make it unattractive to engage in drugs.
The laws were enacted in 1973 under Governor Nelson Rockefeller to whom they are named (Wilson par1). This paper is going to evaluate the impact of the Rockefeller Laws in New York State. The finds out that since the laws became effective in 1973, the judicial system got distorted, the population of African Americans and Latinos in jails has increased sharply, and the petty drug offenders are denied an opportunity for treatment, broken homes, families and communities, economic distress and diversion of government resources from other more deserving sectors to prisons.
The immediate effect of the Rockefellers laws is that the tied the hands of the judges in determining the appropriate jail term or even punishment for the offender. The laws effectively took that power from the judge by specifying how jail terms for people found with illegal drugs according to the amounts and class of the drugs. The judge was in this case reduced to a parrot to just read what the law said even if it would be against his better judgment. Being that there are no two cases that are similar and the offenders are also unique, it is an act of injustice to introduce blanket sentences on the accused.
Furthermore since the judge cannot take into consideration an individual defendant’s circumstances, it remains that the only other way of receiving a more lenient sentence is to cooperate with the prosecution. However this works well with those who are powerful in the trade because it is only them who have access to information regarding drug cartels and the trade. The implication of these is that the powerful individuals , by cooperating with the prosecution get reduced sentences while those at the bottom of the pyramid end up with longer jail terms (Sayegh par2).
Emanating from the point above is the disproportionately high number of African Americans and Latinos in jail as a result of breaking these laws. A report from a study done in 2004 showed that the rates of illicit drug use were 8.1% for the whites, 8.1% for Africa-Americans and 7.2% for Latinos. Among the teens ages 12 to 17 years, the rates are highest among the whites as compared to Africa-Americans and Latinos. Yet among those incarcerated in state prisons on account of drug offences, 90% are Africa-American or Latino.
The percentage of African-American in prison due to drug offences is 58.5%, for Latinos it is 31.5% while it is 8.9% for the whites. This contrasts with the statistics on racial percentages of drug users. Among these 80% have never been convicted been convicted of a violent offence yet they are sentenced under these archaic laws to remain in prison. The laws are therefore discriminative against the colored people (Wilson par 5,6,7).
Being that Rockefellers laws do not give drug users an opportunity to go for treatment, offenders who were under treatment and others who would have benefited from the same are held in prison. Treatment which is far much cheaper and cost-effective is ignored while thousands of dollars are used to sustain the victim in Jail. Among the prison population, 83% of the inmates have an identified substance abuse.
Rockefellers are also to blame for many homes, families and communities that have been broken. With such a high number of inmates, one can only imagine the number of homes, families and communities that suffer the loss. In 2002, an estimated eleven thousand people incarcerated for drug related offences were parents of young children including a thousand women. Approximately twenty five thousand children in New York State had their parents behind bars as a result of nonviolent drug charges convictions. Widowed wives and orphaned children are not uncommon among the affected.
This will almost automatically be followed by loss of livelihood. Families that previously provided for themselves may be left to suffer due to imprisonment of the bread winner in circumstances where a more lenient punishment would have sufficed. The lost labor is not good for the economy as a whole save for big corporations that utilize prisoners as laborers for meager pay (NLYCU par 5).
The laws were reformed in 2004 under the stewardship of New York Assembly and drug law advocates. The reform lowered the maximum sentences from 25 years to nine years. This change was however too little too late; the reforms have had minimal effects on the ground. The laws have not succeeded in stopping inner-city youths from using and dealing with drugs. The problem persists (Sayegh par 10).
Legalization of drugs is a question that had lingered in the public domain for a long time. Legalization of the drug will not automatically lead to decreased violence and profit. Legalizing the drugs will make it available to a lot of people some of them school-going children whose mental judgment cannot be trusted. Legalizing the drugs is therefore a very risky affair whose benefits are not worth the risk involved and whose results one can never be sure of.
The Rockefellers’ laws can be said to be bad laws made in response to a genuine and serious concern. It was meant to tackle the rampant problem of drug abuse but due to the fact that the drafters were overzealous about it, the laws became counterproductive.
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