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PATAKI'S PLAN TO EASE DRUG LAWS DOES NOT HELP MANY NEW YORK FAMILIES

I am a mother and grandmother from Schenectady with two 35-year-old sons, Jeffrey and William Hilts. Both are in prison on drug charges under the Rockefeller drug laws.

Jeffrey has served nine years of his 15-30 year sentence. This was his first conviction, for a sale of 2.89 grams ( 1/1 0 of an ounce) of cocaine. William has served 10 years of his 10-20 year sentence for the sale of 1.97 grams of cocaine.

For more than a decade I have been learning firsthand what it is like to be a casualty of the war on drugs. I am living through the destruction that mandatory minimum sentence laws cause to families.

I could not agree with Gov.George E. Pataki more when he said in his State of the State speech early this year that it is time for dramatic reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It is because of these laws that I am now raising four grandchildren, some of whom were in diapers when their fathers were locked away for non-violent drug charges. It is because of these laws that I have had to summon the rest of my strength to persistently advocate for Jeffrey and William.

As a parent, I am sure the governor understands that this battle is not only for my sons, but for our entire family. As long as my sons languish in prison, their children and I are locked behind those same walls.

The governor's recent words gave me and my entire family great hope. We hope that other politicians in New York and around the country will now be able to take a closer look at the madness of incarcerating so many of our citizens without any thought as to how this may affect our families and communities. It is right for us to question whether such extreme punishments have anything to do with justice or fairness.

However, it was a devastating disappointment for us to hear that the governor's plan for reform overlooked families like mine. The proposal he released two weeks ago to change the Rockefeller drug laws will let only a small fraction of New York's drug prisoners appeal to have their sentences re-evaluated under the new guidelines. If his plan is adopted as is, there would be no relief for my sons, both of whom have served nearly a decade for their offenses.

Under the governor's proposal, only A-1 offenders, those who received the harshest penalty of 15 years to life, would be able to petition for retroactive sentencing. They would be eligible for a reduction to 10 years minimum to life or 8 1/3 years to life on appeal.

Prisoners like my sons would not see a reduction in their sentences, even though they were convicted for lesser offenses.

I don't think that it is humane for us to continue with mandatory sentencing at any level, but forgive me for not understanding where the sanity is in excluding my sons from the reduction proposed by the governor for higher level convictions.

How does it make sense to let my sons serve longer sentences than those required for some of the more serious offenses?

When I visit my sons in prison, I see countless young men just like them who were sentenced under the Rockefeller drug laws, without any regard for their circumstances or the possibility for their rehabilitation.

If Pataki wants to help those of us who have lost decades from our lives because of these laws, but hope to live to see our families reunited, I urge him to work with the reformers and other elected officials to provide broader retroactive application of any change in the sentencing scheme.

We need justice for the many, not just clemency for the few.

MARY MORTIMORE lives in Schenectady.

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