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New York Governor Pataki Pledges Reform of Harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws


February 1995

New York Governor George M. Pataki is seeking to offer alternatives to prison time for those convicted of drug offenses as a cost-cutting and crime-fighting measure (Ian Fisher, "Pataki Reaches Accord to Ease Strict Drug Laws," Albany Times Union, Jan. 30, 1995, p. A1; Ian Fisher, "Pataki is Pressing to Ease Sentences in Some Drug Laws," New York Times, Jan. 30, 1995, p. 1).

Pataki says the "Rockefeller" drug laws have filled New York's prisons and have not increased public safety. The drug laws were passed in 1973 under the governorship of Nelson A. Rockefeller and include harsh mandatory prison terms for drug offenses and second-time offenders. The state prison population has risen from 13,437 in 1973 to about 66,000 today.

Pataki said he thinks communities would be better served if non-violent drug offenders were sentenced to drug rehabilitation, community service, or house arrest instead of prison time.

"[The law reform] does three things," Pataki said. "First, it frees up the cell space for violent felons. Second, it will allow those inmates who otherwise would simply become hardened convicts to have the treatment and the support services, so hopefully they could be led back to productive lives. Then third, we believe it could lead to lower costs to the taxpayers."

Pataki said he is still working on the language for his proposal and expects it to be part of his final budget to the state legislature, which is required to act on it by April 1.