Established 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


Baby Tony Papa Jr.



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

By Anthony Papa, AlterNet
August 7, 2002

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 drug laws.

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 repealed.

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 Laws.

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.




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 Drug Laws.

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.  

A  delegation, including its leader Taty Almeida,  of the Argentine Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo 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
Saturday  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


Enriqueta Maroni, 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.  
Aurora  Bellochio, 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 daughter.

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.


 www.stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/329/dirtywar.shtml  3/19/04

http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=18228  3/24/04  

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 rights.

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 rights.

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.







New York Post   http://nypost.com/seven/12172004/gossip/pagesix.htm
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 human lives."

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 with me."



Pataki Signs Bill Softening Drug Laws

Published: August 31, 2005


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 release.

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.



Few State Prisoners Freed Under Eased Drug Law
Published: December 15, 2005
When Gov. George E. Pataki signed a law a year ago reducing what he called "unduly long sentences" for drug crimes, he predicted that hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders would be released from prison.

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 low-level couriers.

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

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 no more.

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 family alone.

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 treating addiction.

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 communities.

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 low-level offenders.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.


Spitzer, Cuomo and Paterson: Where Did You Go?

Posted May 5, 2007 | 05:35 PM (EST)

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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 the issue.

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.