Last year's reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws pales in comparison with solving the basic problem of drug addiction, a state lawmaker said Thursday night.
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens, chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Corrections, joined Judge Robert Russell of Buffalo's Drug Court for a public forum held in Kensington-Bailey Community Center by Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo.
Aubry, who has pushed for reform for several years, has sponsored legislation for a full repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The 1973 legislation, named for then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, imposed stiff prison sentences and denied judicial discretion in drug-related cases.
Last December, Gov. George E. Pataki signed a reform bill that offers some relief.
"The heart of Rockefeller, to us, was the fact that judges did not have discretion on the cases," Aubry said. Sentencing was based simply on the (volume) weight of the drugs involved.
"The sentences were beyond the scope," Aubry said. "You could kill somebody and not get the amount of time you got for possession of the drugs."
Judges were required, without considering circumstances of the offense or the defendant's record, to impose minimum sentences of 15 years to life for those convicted of possessing four ounces of cocaine or heroin or selling two ounces. Though the laws targeted major drug dealers, prisons filled up with minor players in drug trafficking -- particularly those addicted.
Prison drug-treatment programs need further reform, Aubry said, to provide treatment throughout a sentence rather than just toward its end. Education, opportunity and health care also are factors in drug addiction, he said.
"We do have . . a lot of work to do," Peoples agreed.
Russell, the Drug Court judge, said society's attitude toward drugs has changed over the last three decades. Whereas drug addiction had been regarded as a behavioral problem, modern thinking regards it as a disease.
"I believe we have become more aware and intelligent to the extent that we realize we have to treat the addiction," Russell said. "It's important that we deal with the addiction and how to treat it."
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