OF THE NEW YORK DISAPPEARED"
in 1998 and Leading the Way to Repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws!
Below find a brief history of
the Rockefeller reform movement from someone who lived the experience!
May 8th 2001 Rockefeller
Protest with Baby Tony Papa Jr. and Luciana
SAVE THE CHILDREN OF
THOSE INCARCERATED UNDER THE ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS!
MOTHERS OF THE NEW YORK DISAPPEARED
Read How a Small Group of Dedicated Activists Changed the
Face of the Drug War in New York State.
So Close, Yet So Far: The Road to Reform
In 1973 under the leadership of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, New York State
passed the toughest drug laws in the nation. Since their enactment these laws
have been considered the answer when it comes to solving the drug epidemic and
capturing drug kingpins. Approaching their 30th year anniversary, neither
ambition has been fulfilled. New York's gulags are bursting at their seams with
over 19,000 low-level drug offenders, and drugs are more available then ever.
Furthermore, studies have shown that treatment is much more effective than
incarceration in halting drug abuse and reducing recidivism. If the Rockefeller
Drug Laws have proven not to be effective, you might ask, why do they still
exist? In reality the harsh sentencing guidelines, with their mandatory
minimums, have fueled the prison industrial complex, in the process creating
economic development in mostly depressed rural upstate communities. Thirty-eight
prisons have been built since 1982 at a cost of over a billion dollars annually
to operate in Republican senate districts. This explains in large part why these
laws are still in effect.
I know first hand of the draconian nature the Rockefeller Drug Laws. I was a
first time non-violent offender who was sentenced to 15-years-to-life for
passing an envelope containing four and one-half ounces of cocaine to an
undercover officer in New York's Westchester County in 1984. An individual I met
in my bowling league set me up in a sting operation, when he offered me $500 to
deliver a package. My one mistake cost me 12 years of my life.
While in prison I discovered my talent as an artist and in 1988 I painted a
self-portrait titled "15 Years to Life"; in 1994 it was displayed at
the Whitney Museum of Art, which led to media exposure of my case. Two years
later, Governor George Pataki granted me clemency.
When the system released me from Sing-Sing I began speaking out against the
laws that had imprisoned me. It was then that I met Randy Credico, who directs
the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice [http://www.kunstler.org/ ].
He wanted to know what his organization could do to fight the drug war in New
York. We came up with the idea of organizing family members of those imprisoned
under the Rockefeller Drug Laws in a manner modeled after the Argentina mothers
of the disappeared - mothers and grandmothers who regularly took to the streets,
protesting against the government's "Dirty War" torture, murder and
disappearance of accused left-wingers.
On May 8th 1998, the NY "Mothers of the Disappeared" staged their
first rally at Rockefeller Center in NYC. About two dozen family members held
signs with photos of their love ones who had disappeared because of New York's
This simple but dramatic gesture led to amazing media coverage. We knew at
that point we had given birth to a movement that was able to reach out to
citizens because it put a human face on the war on drugs. The event became a
weekly affair and eventually expanded to different cities in New York State.
Numerous advocates have joined our ranks. They include celebrities like comic
actor and TV host Charles Grodin, religious leaders such as Cardinal O 'Connor,
and former politicians.
With a small group of about 25 dedicated individuals, in five years we
managed to shift public opinion and changed the face of the drug war in New York
State. Once this occurred many elected officials spoke out, putting aside their
fears of political death that had been traditionally associated with drug
reform. Finally in 2001, Governor Pataki along with the Assembly and Senate,
called for reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Both houses submitted bills with
their own version of what changes should be made. This triggered an on-going
battle that ended the legislative session in a deadlock.
This pushed us even more to fight for change. Since an election year for the
governor approached, we decided to use the NY Mothers of the Disappeared to
respond to the fact that many non-violent drug offenders sat in prison rotting
away while politicians wallowed in debate. An ad campaign was developed that
targeted Hispanic and black voters - a bloc Pataki seeks to placate. These
stinging ads portrayed the governor as the main reason why 94% of drug offenders
in New York's prisons were black and Latino. The governor's popularity among
this population suddenly plummeted, forcing him to seek a way to stop our
protests. For this mission the governor sent Chauncy Parker, his newly appointed
Director of Criminal Justice, to meet with us.
Parker pitched the Governor's proposed bill to change the Rockefeller Drug
Laws, detailing the formal aspects of the law. For the most part the audience of
about 20 family members listened, but did not really understand the complicated
terminology. After a while, an elderly Hispanic women who was in very poor
health interrupted him. She asked Parker how the governor's bill would help her
imprisoned son of 15 years to come home.
Chauncy stopped dead in his sentence and responded. He said if the assembly
would pass the governor's bill her son would be eligible for immediate release.
The women smiled and tears of joy ran down her face. Another black woman asked
the same question. "Immediate release" was his answer and with a
pause, he added: " If the governor's bill is passed." Everyone in the
room was full of happiness with the hope that the Rockefeller Drug Laws would be
The meeting left us all with the idea that all the hard work we have been
doing for years had finally paid off. There was only a month left in the year's
legislative session. Hope was dwindling fast as both sides could not come to an
agreement. On June 12, 2002, the NY Mothers of the Disappeared were invited to a
meeting with Pataki. The night before, the Governor had pushed through the
Senate an additional bill that would affect only Class A-1 felons. This would
allow about two hundred prisoners to be eligible for immediate release if the
Assembly passed the bill. Not surprisingly, most of those incarcerated who would
be eligible were family members of the NY Mothers of the Disappeared.
A dilemma of moral proportions arose. Would we take the proffered carrot by
the string and support the governor freeing our love ones, even though all of
his legislation fell far short of true reform? We listened as Governor Pataki
blamed the Assembly for not cooperating with him. The meeting lasted for over an
hour. When we left, we were part of a press conference in which New York
Assembly leader Sheldon Silver blamed the governor for not cooperating with the
Assembly. We listened as our dreams of changing the Rockefeller Drug Laws began
to fade away. The 2002 legislative session ended with no resolution, leaving us
in anguish for being so close, yet so far in reforming the Rockefeller Drug
We held another meeting on July 29th with Chauncy Parker. We found out that
serious negotiations were still being held and that the possibility of reform
existed in a special session of the legislature if they could come to some kind
of agreement. Our message to Governor Pataki, the Senate and Assembly is a
simple one. We will not take a position and support any pending legislation. All
we can say is please put aside the political rhetoric of crime and politics and
realize that there is a human element involved. Then maybe we all can walk hand
in hand on common ground to change the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
HISTORIC MEETING WITH ARGENTINA & NY
MOTHERS & NYC D.A Robert
Morganthau!!! HUGE PROTEST TO FOLLOW ON 4/15/03 IN FRONT OF GOVERNOR
PATAKI'S NYC OFFICE (READ MORE BELOW)!!!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Randy Credico 212 924 6980
Anthony Papa 917 754 1008
Eric Schneiderman 212 928 5578
Tuesday April 13, 10:30 Manhattan DA's office
Madres de Plaza De Mayo, Mothers of the NY Disappeared
and maverick NY Senator Eric Schneiderman to meet with New York's
foremost District Attorney Robert Morganthau
regarding Rockefeller Drug Laws;Highly Respected District Attorney is first New
York DA to
meet with families of Rock law prisoners Wednesday 4/14/ Madres and
Mothers on to Albany for
meetings with Sen. Dems, Bruno, Silver, Black and Latino Caucus
Albany Times Union 4/12/04
| Members of the Madres de Plaza De
Mayo, an Argentinean group that pressured their country's military junta
for answers about their missing loved ones, will meet with top New York
state officials Wednesday to lobby for reform of the strict Rockefeller
The madres have appointments with Senate Majority Leader Joseph
Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, as
well as members of the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Legislative
Caucus. The meetings will need a crack translator; none of the women
"speaks a lick of English," according to drug law reform activist Randy
Credico. Credico, who will accompany the madres, is spokesman for the
Mothers of the New York Disappeared, a group of formerly incarcerated
drug offenders and relatives of offenders currently serving long
sentences The New York group was inspired by the madres, who have
demonstrated every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. for years in the Plaza de Mayo
in Buenos Aires. They wear white head kerchiefs and carry signs bearing
the names and photos of the missing. The New York mothers do the same,
except their "missing" relatives are incarcerated under the drug laws,
which mandate long sentences, up to life, for sale or possession of
relatively small quantities of narcotics. "We haven't been able to
change the Rockefeller Drug Laws, yet these women were able to change a
military government in Argentina," Credico said. "We're hoping a little
of their magic rubs off." The madres, enormously popular in the Latino
community, will demonstrate in front of Pataki's Manhattan office on
Thursday, Credico said. Fellow members of the group will simultaneous
stand vigil back home at the Plaza de Mayo.
Argentina's MADRES DE
PLAZA DE MAYO LINEA FUNDADORA will be coming to NYC the second week of April to
join forces with the Mothers of the NY Disappeared to fight the Rockefeller Drug
Laws. A series of events are scheduled with politicians and others to
highlight the issue of human rights violations.
including its leader Taty Almeida, of the Argentine Las Madres de Plaza de
www.madres-lineafundadora.org) will be making an historic 10 day trip to New
York City in April as guests of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial
Justice and in support of their friends, Mothers of the NY Disappeared, in their
endless and tireless efforts to change the Rockefeller Drug Laws and be reunited
with their loved ones.
Below is a partial list of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo itinerary.
Arrive April 9, JFK 6:30 AM. and will be met by the Kunstler Fund , the
Mothers of the NY Disappeared and Argentine reps and NY officials. A noon Press
conference at city hall steps with Margarita Lopez and other politicos along
with Rockefeller Drug Reform activists
Saturday April 10, A private reception with women in the civil rights
struggle at the home of Kunstler Fund founder and civil rights attorney Margaret
Ratner Kunstler; meetings with latino mothers of the disappeared in their homes
Sunday April 11: Easter in Washington Heights church TBA
Monday April 12 City Council Hearing with Mothers of the NY Disappeared
organized and sponsored by Councilwoman Margarita Lopez and the William Moses
Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. A reception will follow inside city hall.
Tuesday April 13: MEETING WITH D.A. ROBERT MORGANTHAU!! Lunch
at offices of Drug Policy Alliance HQ at 70 west 36 street. A meeting at the
Correctional Association to hear grim testimony about Special Housing Units
Tuesday Night: A private reception at the home of longtime WMK Fund,
Mothers of the NY Disappeared supporters and fervent anti-drug war activists
Wendy and Jason Flom of Lava Records
Wednesday April 14:
WednesdayApril 14: Albany New York for meetings with Speaker Sheldon
Silver and other members of the NYS assembly; meeting with democratic leaders in
the state senate; a press conference will follow ( the mothers hope to meet with
Gov. Pataki and Joe Bruno
Thursday April 15 The Madres de Plaza de Mayo for the past 27 years have
held vigils/marches at the Plaza e Mayo in Buenos Aires at 1:30 PM EST.
OOn this day they will hold their vigil/march in front of the New York City
office of Governor Pataki on 3rd Ave and 40th streets
Thursday Night April 15 7;30PM: a party/reception/fundraiser open to the
public at Taci's on Broadway on 110 and Broadway to be sponsored by the WMK
Fund, Actor Charles Grodin, State Senator Eric Schneiderman, Documentary
producer Peter Greer, Wendy and Jason Flom and the Drug Policy Alliance
Friday April 16: TBA
Sunday April 18 return to Buenos Aires
The mothers will meet with attorney general Elliot Spitzer, mogul Russell
Simmons and longtime activist Grandpa Al Lewis during the week of the 12th.
Randi Credico 212- 924-6980
Anthony Papa 917 - 754-1008
Tony Newman Drug Policy Alliance 212 613 8026
BIO'S OF MADRES
75, has four children, of whom two were "disappeared" in 1977 by the
Argentine Junta. Their names are Juan Patricio Maroni, who was 21, and Maria
Beatriz Maroni, who was 23 when she was taken. Maria Beatrizs husband Carlos was
also disappeared. Juan Patricio studied sociology, and Maria Beatriz was a
licensed social worker. Their family was Catholic, and both Juan Patricio and
Maria Beatriz were very religious. Gradually, they became involved in a Peronist
youth movement, which was critical first of Isabel Peronâs government, and then
of the military dictatorship. They were both taken on the same night, the 5th of
April, 1977. Juan Patricio's 11-month-old daughter, Paula, was left with
Enriqueta and her husband, and they raised her. Enriqueta joined the madres de
la plaza in the fall of 1977.
82, worked as a dress maker. She had 8 children, one of whom died in
infancy. Her fourth child, Irene , and her daughters' husband Rolando Pisoni,
were disappeared the 5th of August, 1977. Her daughter was in her third year of
studying architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, her husband was in his
fourth year of engineering at the same school. The daughter worked at the Banco
de Galicia in B.A., where she was a union representative. A year and a half
prior to her disappearance, someone went looking for her at the bank where she
worked. She managed to escape, and never went back to work and she went into
hiding, and subsequently got pregnant. She gave birth to the baby (Carlos)
in a hospital where she had been assured she would be safe by a friend who
worked there. 36 days after the birth of her only son, Irene and Rolando were
found and taken away from where they had been living in hiding. A neighbor was
given the new-born baby carlos and took him to his grandparents, Aurora and her
husband. Aurora raised Carlos as a son. After presenting her habeus corpus about
her daughters disappearance, Aurora gradually began to run into other mothers of
disappeared people, at church and at the court. Because she was working and also
had children still to raise, she did not have much time to get involved, but
eventually she joined and has become a very active Madre de Plaza de Mayo.
Carmen La Paco
, 77. Carmen's daughter Alejandra was 19 years of age and studying
anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires in the spring of 1997. Her
boyfriend was was a history student. At 11 PM on the night of March
16th, 1977, Carmen, her nephew, her daughter Alejandra and her boyfriend were
sitting around the table drinking coffee , when a knock came on the door and a
group of 9 or 10 armed thugs barged into the house. With the exception of
Carmen's mother, they were all taken to the basement of the Club Atletico, where
they were tortured for three days. At one point, Carmen encountered her own
daughter (whom she identified by her shoes, because she was chained to the
ground and could not look up). Her daughter told her that she had returned from
being tortured, and that she thought she was going to die. That was the last
time that she saw her daughter alive. Carmen says of the experience, those three
days, I lived hell. Hell not only for myself, but for what they did to my
daughter. She and her nephew, a law student, were released together after
those three days. It was a Saturday. Two days later, on Monday, Carmen did her
Habeus Corpus, and she began her fight to find out what had happened to her
Lydia 'Taty' Almeida.
This charismatic, affable and tireless 74 year old woman actually comes from a
military family: her brother was a colonel, her father was a colonel. She has
three children. Her son Alejandro was 20 years old when he was disappeared in
1975. She says that the perception is that disappearances only happened after
the 1976 military coup, but that in fact, under the ˜constitutionalâ government
of Isabel Peron 2,000 people were disappeared, and clandestine torture
centers were established. . Alejandro, a medical student, left his house to go
out on the 7th of June, 1975, and he never returned home. Being anti-Peronista,
Taty assumed that it was the Peronist government that had taken her son, and she
rejoiced when the military coup happened. Then she realized that the
disappearances continued. When the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo formed in 1977,
Taty was hesitant about joining, because she assumed that they would think she
was a spy, because of her family âs military connections. But after awhile, she
did join, and it was "best thing she could have done." In 1985, she met
some of her son âs friends, who told her that they were alive thanks to
Alejandro, who had not told their names even when he was tortured. Since then,
she has met more of his friends, and she continues to fight. She says, Our
struggle is for memory, truth and justice.
New York's Dirty War
by Anthony Papa, Mothers of the
New York Disappeared and 15yearstolife.com
On February 5, 2004, an historic march
took place at the Plaza de Mayo circle in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Traditionally
for over 25 years, Argentina mothers have come to the circle to protest against
the disappearance of their love ones from the despicable acts of the
dictatorship of Argentina, which formed in 1976. What made the day different was
that members of the Mothers of the New York Disappeared joined them. They came
to Argentina to pay homage to the Mothers who had inspired them in their
seven-year struggle against the Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State. Two
groups of mothers from worlds apart united against the violation of human
It was a bright sunny day. The air was
sharp as crowds of tourists gathered to watch the mothers prepare themselves for
their vigil. Tens of dozens of elderly women, most in the twilight of their
lives, entered the arena of hope praying that their dedication might somehow
bring justice to the children of the disappeared. Old women from the Asociación
Madres de Plaza de Mayo (http://www.madres.org),
the most radical of several groups. began the march waving bright blue flags
proudly displaying their logo. Women with hearts full of passion whose frailed
hands held tightly onto a banner that read "Ni Un Paso A Tras!!" -- "Not One
Step Back" when translated. A sea of white handkerchiefs adorned the heads of
the Argentinean mothers as they gracefully marched in protest against atrocities
that were committed against them and their families. They were unspeakable
crimes against humanity. It is estimated that 30,000 people had been kidnapped
and murdered in the reign of terror that existed from 1976 to 1983.
In 1973, a similar reign silently
began in New York State. Men and women, many nonviolent offenders, were being
convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. They had in fact
disappeared from the roles they played in society. For over thirty years, these
draconian laws have devastated and destroyed families, especially affecting the
lives of children. Although it cannot be said that the acts of the legislature
were of the same caliber as those implemented by the Argentinean dictatorship,
the enactment of the Rockefeller Drug Laws has led to the systematic
imprisonment of men and women of black and Latino decent. Over 94% of the
population of New York State prisons are persons of color. It was not a concrete
act of genocide, but no less a form of it, and for sure, a violation of human
In 1998 the Mothers of the NY
Disappeared was formed to fight to repeal these laws. In five years, using
street level protests inspired by the Argentine mothers, they managed to change
the political climate of New York State by putting a human face on the issue of
the drug war. In 2001, for the first time in 27 years, the governor of New York
along with the Senate and Assembly all agreed that the laws must be changed.
However, for three consecutive years this was not done because of disagreement
on what changes should be made. In the meantime, over 16,000 men and women
convicted under these laws are wasting away in New York State prisons.
One member of the Mothers group from
New York was Julie Colon, an aspiring actress whose mother, Melita Oliviera, a
first time nonviolent offender, had served 13 years of a 15 to life sentence for
the sale of cocaine before she was granted clemency two years ago by Governor
George Pataki. "My mother had made a mistake, and she paid dearly for it" said
Colon. "I am here to join with other mothers and family members to share the
pain of losing someone dear. Although it was not final, the act of her being
taken from my life for all those years was devastating to me." Julie was placed
in foster care. Her case is representative of many others in the New York group,
including Arlene Olberg, whose baby was born in prison while she was serving
time under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The day before, a meeting took place
in the office of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, the Grandmothers of the
Disappeared, a group that was formed on October 22, 1977, dedicated to finding
the children that were stolen from them. One of the vile acts of the
dictatorship was to kidnap pregnant women and put them in concentration camps
where their children were born. Then they were murdered and their children were
put up for adoption. It was a method of political repression. To date 77
children have been found through DNA testing. We spoke to their president,
Estela de Carlotto, whose own daughter was kidnapped on November 26, 1977.
Estela, an attractive, soft-spoken woman in her 70's, has felt the pain of
losing a child first hand. She said, "We had warned her of the danger, but she
wanted to change the country." Her daughter, Laura Estella de Carlotto, had been
a militant student at the university. On August 25, 1978, the military police
called her, saying that her 21-year-old daughter had been assassinated.
When asked if she was afraid to
protest their actions, she responded, "Yes, it was dangerous, some of us were
kidnapped and assassinated. But for the most part because we were women so they
left us alone. They felt we were no threat." Their perseverance paid off.
Recently the government has annulled two immunity laws protecting those who
committed the atrocities, allowing the law to be able to prosecute them. She
told us that "the new president opens his doors to us all the time because he
belongs to the same generation of the children that disappeared."
It was a similar story that was told
by a half dozen members of another group called the Madres de Plaza de Mayo
Línea Fundadora. Their office walls were adorned with photos of loved ones that
had disappeared. Some of the women had pictures of murdered family members
draped around their necks in the place of jewelry. A roundtable discussion took
place, exchanging information about each groups' struggle. At the end of the
meeting their leader suggested that she would write an open letter to the
governor of New York State, asking him repeal the laws. The letter would be
signed by many organizations that fight for human rights in Argentina. "We
thanked them for their generosity and understanding. We went there not knowing
how they would accept us," said Luciana, the wife of a former Rockefeller drug
offender who attended the meeting. "Seeing these women gives me the strength to
continue my fight to change these laws."
Some might argue that the families of
those incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws have not suffered as the
Madres in Argentina. But, I would point out that for thirty years the oppression
of these laws has been felt in the context of the social death implemented by
the punitive laws of New York State. There are haunting similarities which make
one think of what the difference is between a democratic society and a
dictatorship. For both groups of mothers, worlds apart, they are connected by
their respective struggles. One day it is hoped that both groups find peace when
justice is found.
In the second week of April 2004, the
Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora will visit New York as guests of the
William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice to meet with New York politicians
and others to voice their protest. Visit
http://www.15yearstolife.com/imothers.htm for more information on the
schedule of events.
Anthony Papa is cofounder of the
Mothers of the NY Disappeared. He served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence under
the Rockefeller Drug Laws. His book "15 To Life" is being published in fall 2004
by Feral House.
MADRES FROM ARGENTINA VISIT NY AND JOINS NY MOTHERS IN ROCKEFELLER PROTEST
AT CITY HALL 4/9/04
ON DRUG LAW
New York Post
December 17, 2004
December 17, 2004
-- THE man who founded the movement to get the
Rockefeller Drug Law penalties repealed has blasted rap mogul Russell Simmons
as a "nightmare" who "destroyed" the movement.
Some of the penalties were merely reduced earlier this week — dashing the
dream of Anthony Papa, co-founder of Mothers of the New York Disappeared,
who spent over a decade in state prisons after a Rockefeller Law conviction and
launched the campaign to have the law repealed.
Simmons, who has gotten a lot of publicity for campaigning against the tough
laws, was present at a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday with Gov. Pataki,
where he called the reform "a giant step forward." The laws, passed by Gov.
Nelson Rockefeller in 1973 and 1974, meant that some low-level drug dealers went
to jail for longer sentences than rapists or murderers.
Papa, now an artist and author of the recently published "15 to Life: How I
Painted My Way to Freedom," says he was responsible for getting Simmons involved
in the movement through Andrew Cuomo.
"At first it was a dream come true," Papa told The Post's State Editor
Fredric U. Dicker in an e-mail, "but it became our worst nightmare. Simmons
the businessman's only concern was to cut a deal — he did not care a hoot about
Papa is seething that Simmons gave up the initial goal of total repeal in
favor of "watered-down reform." He fumes, "Now people like Simmons are patting
themselves on their backs along with the governor, [Sen. Majority Leader
Joseph] Bruno and [Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver . .
. I should have dogged him . . . but [I] figured he would help us. Instead, he
destroyed the movement."
Simmons declined to hit back at Papa, saying that in his opinion, the reforms
were a "good deal." "In my experience as a businessman, a good deal usually
means everybody has to compromise," he says. "I'm sorry everybody's not happy.
I'm glad that something was done.
"I'm not the reason the deal got made," Simmons states. "My name is not on
the paper. But the governor did give me the pen he used, which is an honor . . .
I respect and appreciate the hard work Anthony Papa did. I'm sorry he's upset
Pataki Signs Bill Softening Drug Laws
Gov. George E. Pataki signed a bill into law last night that
will soften the so-called Rockefeller drug laws, his office said.
The new law will allow about 540 inmates - those convicted of Class
A-2 felonies - the chance to petition for resentencing and early
It is the second piece of reform to the drug laws that were passed in
1973 and that established mandatory sentences that in some cases were
longer than those for murder convictions. Last December, Governor Pataki
signed a bill allowing 446 inmates serving time for A-1 felonies to
petition for a reduction in their mandatory sentences.
The bill, one in a batch of about 100 that the governor signed about
7:30 p.m., would have gone into effect at midnight without Mr. Pataki's
signature unless he had vetoed it.
The governor, who is weighing a run for president, signed the bill
"based on its merits," a spokesman, Kevin Quinn, said.
While reformers hailed the new law last night, they said they would
like to see more done to dismantle the drug laws. "We took 2 steps
forward on Rockefeller reform last December, and we're taking another
step forward today, but we have another good 10 steps to go," said Ethan
Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a
nonprofit group focused on changing national drug policy.
But so far, only 142 prisoners - about 30 percent of those originally
eligible for new sentences under the revised law - have been freed,
according to a report released yesterday by the Legal Aid Society.
The new law "has not resulted in a whole heck of a lot in terms of
real impact on folks who were serving long sentences," said Gabriel
Sayegh, a policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports
further changes in the drug laws and organized a news conference to
publicize the Legal Aid report.
The new sentencing provisions were the most widely heralded aspect of
the Drug Law Reform Act of 2004, which changed the mandatory sentencing
laws imposed in 1973 when Nelson Rockefeller was governor.
Those laws had been criticized for requiring judges to impose a
sentence of 15 years to life on anyone convicted of selling two ounces
or possessing four ounces of narcotics, whether they were drug lords or
The new law increased the amount of drugs that trigger long
sentences, and reduced those sentences to 8 to 20 years. And it allowed
prisoners serving the longest prison terms to ask to be resentenced
under the new standards.
The Pataki administration believes the drug law reforms are working
as they were intended to, said Chauncey G. Parker, the governor's
director of criminal justice.
The goal was not to win release for all of the long-term prisoners,
known as A-1 felons, he said. "Our goal was to give 100 percent of the
A-1's the opportunity to be resentenced," and to adjust the sentences to
fit the seriousness of their crimes.
A major reason that relatively few prisoners have been released is
that district attorneys are still opposing resentencing requests and, in
some cases, asking judges to impose long prison terms, said William
Gibney, a senior attorney for Legal Aid who wrote the report.
The state should target the real drug kingpins
BY ANTHONY PAPA
Anthony Papa is a communications specialist for the Drug Policy
Alliance, a New York-based organization working to reform drug policies,
and author of "15 to Life."
July 26, 2006
Ashley O'Donoghue is a low-level, nonviolent offender currently serving
a 7-to-21-year sentence for the sale of 2 1/2 ounces of cocaine. In
September 2003, the Oneida County district attorney claimed that the
20-year-old was a major drug kingpin and needed to face a life sentence
under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Reacting to a commonly used scare tactic, O'Donoghue agreed to a plea
bargain. His A-1 felony, the highest possible felony, was reduced to a B
felony. Like magic, O'Donoghue was no longer a kingpin - that is, a drug
dealer distributing extraordinarily large quantities.
There are thousands of defendants just like O'Donoghue, whom prosecutors
claim are kingpins one day and then, through plea negotiations, kingpins
I went through the same experience in 1984 when I was arrested for the
sale of 4 ounces of cocaine. A Westchester assistant district attorney
claimed I was a major kingpin. But in the months that followed he
offered me a plea bargain of three years to life. He told me if I
refused the offer I would not see my 7-year-old daughter until she was
22 years old. This really frightened me, and I did not want to leave my
I decided to go to trial and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to
life. In 1997, after serving 12 years, I was freed by Gov. George Pataki
through executive clemency.
Recently, a report released by Bridget Brennan, New York City's special
narcotics prosecutor, proclaimed that kingpins and people convicted of
high-level drug offenses are being released under the new Rockefeller
Drug Law revisions. The report, titled "The Law of Unintended
Consequences," is a lopsided review of the Drug Law Reform Act of 2004.
The modest changes to the Rockefeller Drug Laws have allowed
approximately 1,000 people convicted of A-1 and A-2 drug felonies to
apply for resentencing. The controversial findings in the report bolster
Brennan's final conclusions: a clarion call for a kingpin statute and
opposition to any additional reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Critics quickly questioned the validity of the report, claiming that it
contained skewed data and its creation was politically motivated.
The report is questionable in many aspects, but I agree with Brennan on
one point: New York needs a kingpin statute. Allowing prosecutors to
define this term has meant that people like O'Donoghue and me are
kingpins one day but not the next. New York needs a clear and reasonable
kingpin statute that can be applied to real kingpins - bona fide major
traffickers - not people convicted of low-level offenses. The kingpin
statute that Brennan calls for is both unreasonable and incompatible
with justice, because it is so broad.
Brennan's report highlighted 84 drug cases handled by her office, with
65 applicants receiving judicial relief under the new law. Contrary to
Brennan's tabloidlike insinuation that the prison gates just opened up,
each prisoner seeking resentencing had to go through a lengthy
application process in order to see a judge for resentencing.
Right now there are almost 4,000 B-level felons serving time in New York
State for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses for small amounts of
drugs. Many of the defendants have drug-addiction problems. These
thousands of offenders are not classified as kingpins. So why would
Brennan actively oppose reforms to release them? It costs taxpayers
millions of dollars to incarcerate these people when community-based
treatment costs less and has proved more effective than incarceration in
Brennan needs to be reminded that the governor, State Senate and
Assembly leaders agreed reforms were necessary to equally balance the
scales of justice in applying the law with the needs of protecting our
To cause a panic by releasing a questionable report is nothing more than
additional punishment for those incarcerated and an underhanded
political tactic to stop further needed reform. If Brennan wants a
kingpin statute, let's fashion one for real kingpins, not for the
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
May 8 marks the 34th anniversary of New
York's Rockefeller Drug Laws. Despite a few
recent reforms, which in theory would fix
the draconian nature of these laws, little
has been done and the campaign for
meaningful reform continues. In fact, out of
the current 13,000 Rockefeller prisoners,
fewer than 300 have been freed under the
revisions to date.
In recent elections, a number of
officials who went on record in support of
real Rockefeller reform were voted into
office. Governor Elliot Spitzer, for one,
along with Lt. Governor David Paterson and
Attorney General Cuomo all have spoken out
for reform in the past. But now they are
surprisingly silent on the issue.
In 2004, I wrote a memoir of my
experiences serving a 15-to-life sentence
under these harsh laws. Andrew Cuomo, before
he became our state's attorney general,
threw a book release party for me at the
Whitney Museum of American Art. Attending
the event were prominent individuals like
Senator David Paterson, along with many
other influential guests.
Cuomo and Paterson spoke bravely about
changing these draconian laws. Spitzer, the
then-attorney general of New York, did not
attend but wrote a letter saying that my
story was a "very personal and tragic story,
like those of so many other nonviolent
offenders languishing in our prisons on
relatively minor drug offenses," and that it
"illustrates the impact that our Rockefeller
Drug Laws have had on a generation of New
Yorkers. I applaud Mr. Papa's courage in
speaking out and sharing his ordeal with the
world." It was a moving event that generated
a vision of changing the Rockefeller Drug
Laws in a positive way.
I find it strange that the people who had
supported change in the past have now become
so silent on the issue. My question is why
do politicians who use political platforms
to generate votes suddenly forget their past
when elected to higher office?
Governor Elliot Spitzer, does appear
interested in correcting the criminal
justice sector, as evidenced by his success
in removing exorbitant charges on collect
calls made by prisoners to their families,
and his recent attempt to downsize
half-empty prisons. But his laudable efforts
have not cued in on the Rockefeller reform.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who has used
this issue in the past to revive his
political career has not uttered a word
about it. And Lt. Governor David Paterson
who represented a highly affected Harlem
district as senator has steered away from
Last week the New York State Assembly
passed a bill for further reform of the
Rockefeller Drug laws. Cheri O'Donoghue
joined them at a press conference and talked
about her son Ashley who is serving a 7 to
21 sentence for a first time non-violent
drug offense. This mother grieved for the
son she had lost to laws that had taken away
her relationship with him. She asked why the
Rockefeller Drug Laws had now not been a
priority with so many politicians that had
benefited from them in the past. No one
could answer her question. It's time for
Spitzer, Paterson and Cuomo to join the NYS
Assembly and step up to the plate. They
should remember their past intentions,
especially when it affects the people who
voted them into office.