Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms of 2009

Annotated Bibliography

Kamins, B. (2009). Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 brings dramatic changes. New York Law Journal.

This article explores the dramatic changes in the US drug legislation which were made in Rockefeller Drug Laws in 2009. It points at the main features in the new legislation, comparing and contrasting various versions of the act and their implications. It is significant that Kamins (2009) indicates six main features while discussing the legislation, making this source valuable for covering the question of the policy description.

On the other hand, the author evaluates the modifications in the act, defining them as dramatic. It means that along with enumeration and description of the main points of the reform, this article contains expert’s critical evaluation of tits practical implications. Another important benefit of the article under consideration is a retrospective approach for presenting the information. Viewing the changes in the current drug legislation in the historical, social and cultural context, Kamins (2009) provides a comprehensive analysis of the reform of 2009.

Lawson, R. (2009-2010). Drug law reform – retreating from an incarceration addiction. Kentucky Law Journal, 98: P, 201- 259.

This article sheds light upon the shift from the war on drugs towards the treatment of addicted individuals by analyzing Kentucky drug legislation using a retrospective approach. This article contains a comprehensive analysis of the historical preconditions of he discussed changes in the legislation, explaining the main reasons for which Rockefeller was so categorical in imposing measures in the frames of the war against drugs.

Lawson (2009-2010) provides valuable figures and tables for taking into consideration the financial and sociological implications of the problem. Using the statistics data as weighty arguments for supporting his point, the author provides a critical evaluation of the legislative act and its implications. Criticizing the tough drug laws, the author concludes that at present these methods can be regarded as obsolete and more effective measures need to be imposed for reducing the illegal drug epidemic. Emphasizing the human and monetary costs of implications of drug legislation, this article can be helpful for covering the issue of the policy environment.

Mancuso, P. (2010) Resentencing after the ‘fall’ of Rockefeller: The failure of the drug law reform acts of 2004 and 2005 to remedy the injustices of New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws and the compromise of 2009. Albany Law Review, 73 (4): p. 1535.

This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the main inconsistencies in Rockefeller drug laws before the reform of 2009. Actually, the first version of this article had been written before the reform was performed. Thus, the reform of 2009 is represented as a part of a rather prolonged legislative process aimed at improving the existing situation. It is significant that Mancuso (2010) highlights various stages of legislative changes and evaluates all stages in making the necessary changes separately. This emphasis upon the historical background of the reform under consideration allows understanding the main preconditions of the measures which were imposed for changing the current legislation and the existing situation in the country. In that regard, this article is valuable for shedding light upon the environmental aspect of the legislative act under analysis.

Walder, N. (2010). NY reform saved 1 000 drug offenders from prison in first year, report says. New York Law Journal.

The author of this article analyzes the preliminary impact of the drug law reform of 2009, viewing it from both sociological and financial perspectives. This article contains not only valuable statistics data but also the consequences of this legislation for various spheres of social life. Analyzing the contradicting views on the changes in the current drug legislation, Walder (2010) tries to get to the roots of the problem for explaining the shift from the war on drugs towards more effective therapy for the addicted which was required for improving the existing state of affairs and making attempts to solve the problem instead of fighting against it.

Taking into consideration the preliminary consequences of eliminating the draconian punishments, the author focuses on benefits of the reform, however, acknowledging the negative consequences at the same time. This source is valuable for covering the issues of the policy effectiveness and environment.

Description of Reform

Leaving the issue whether Rockefeller Drug Laws were necessary and effective in the frames of the war on drugs in 1970s to historians, it can be stated that the obsoleteness of this legislation has become obvious by the early 2000s. The Drug Law Reform of 2009 has meliorated the existing draconian drug laws by expanding eligibility for the treatment programs and probation sentences.

Rockefeller Drug Laws enacted in 1973 as a significant part of the “war on drugs” which are considered as the toughest drug sentences in the country can be justified with the demands of the historical period but appeared to be ineffective for satisfying them. Before the year 1965, the drug related legislation was rather confusing and unsystematic. In 1965, the corresponding laws were revised and divided into basic categories of criminal possession and sale (Mancuso, 2010, p. 1536).

These draconian reforms were signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and went down in history as Rockefeller laws. With these reforms, the prison population incarcerated for drug offenses has grown significantly within the following decades. Though these legal acts are often criticized by commentators for their roughness, it can be defined as a reaction to the 1970’s drug epidemic. This government’s campaign was even labeled as “war on drugs” for its aggressive law enforcement and tough punishments. The war was aimed at incarcerating the most important players of illegal drug business for the purpose of preventing the following development of the sphere and reducing the number of innocent victims.

However, disregarding the reasonable goals for initiating the reforms, the draconian methods and the tough punishment, Rockefeller reforms were not successful in achieving these goals. “It has been noted that drug arrests have tripled since 1980, with more than four-fifths being for simple possession violations” (Lawson, 2010, p. 202). The most inmates in federal prisons were men and women who were arrested for possessing only small amount of drugs for their personal use only. Thus, Rockefeller laws which were intended to struggle against the drug epidemic affected the drug addicted individuals mostly instead of bigger players of the illegal drug business.

Instead of getting to the roots of the issue, these draconian acts intensified the situation in the country by putting the main burden upon the addicted individuals who can be regarded as the victims of the existing situation themselves. By the beginning of 2000s, it was cleared out that Rockefeller drugs were ineffective for reducing drug epidemic. In general, Rockefeller Drug Laws which survived for more than thirty years implemented an unwise strategy, not affecting the main underlying cause of the drug epidemic in the country.

Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 has changed the existing drug legislation dramatically by changing the sentencing pattern and the main principle of anti-drug policy in general. After the decades of implementing draconian anti-war measures, and with the level of drug epidemic even worse than it has been prior to the enactment of Rockefeller laws, it became obvious that a more productive strategy was needed for improving the results.

Attempts to make changes in current legislation have been made since early 2000s. For example, the Drug Reform Act of 2004 has modified Rockefeller Laws to certain extent by expanding the drug treatment opportunities for some groups of defendants. After the new drug law was signed by Governor David Paterson on April 7, 2009, particular important points of the laws were reconsidered and reviewed. However, it was only a starting point of a prolonged process of modifying the current legislation which was continued in 2009. Evaluating the recent reform of 2009, it is stated that “The 2009 version dramatically changes the Rockefeller Drug Laws and provides for substantial amelioration of its harshest provisions” (Kamins, 2009). In a nutshell, the Drug Law Reform of 2009 can be summarized as six main features changing the current legislation.

The first and one of the most notable revisions is that incarceration is no longer mandatory for first time class B and second time class C drug offenders who now can be sentenced to five years of probation. Under the new act, successful completion of a treatment program can result in sentencing of an offender to a probation period or even dismissal of an indictment. The second significant revision allows the court to order a defendant who is involved into the SHOCK program at the moment though it was impossible previously. The third notable change permits sealing certain eligible files in case if a defendant successfully takes part in diversion programs.

The fourth revision in Rockefeller law presupposes resentencing of prisoners who have been sentenced before 5, January 2005 (Kamins, 2009). A fifth feature touches upon new types of crimes which apply to leaders of drug selling organizations and individuals involved into the selling operations themselves. “The sentence for this crime is a minimum of 15 to 25 years and a maximum of life except if the court finds that sentence to be unduly harsh” (Kamins, 2009).

This revision shifts the emphasis from the victims of the drug epidemic to its actual perpetrators by distinguishing between the underlying causes of the problem and the results of the existing situation. A sixth feature expands the eligibility for a parole supervision sentence which is also known as Willard Parole Supervision Program by increasing the availability of the supervision sentence. In general, it can be concluded that the Drug Law Reform of 2009 has meliorated particular points of Rockefeller Drug Laws by distinguishing between drug storage for personal use and selling it and shifting the emphasis towards struggling against the underlying causes of the drug epidemic.

The significant changes implied by the Drug Law Reform of 2009 are being debated, considering their social and economic impact upon present day society. Softening the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws and even resentencing the indictments of those who have been imprisoned before the enactment of the reform in 2009 had a number of positive implications. Eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for first and in certain cases even second-time non-violent drug offenses, the new legislation expands the opportunities for the involvement of the addicted into the treatment programs instead of incarcerating them.

According to preliminary data of Division of Criminal Justice Services, it is stated that “1,600 fewer offenders were sent to state prison in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 for drug crimes and associated property offenses” (Walder, 2010). The lack of time lag after the enactment of the reform limits the opportunities for evaluating the effects of the changes in the current drug legislation and the effectiveness of implementing the strategy of softening the draconian laws. The reform was first met at dagger points and some critiques even made attempts to link the increase in violent crimes to the reform under consideration.

However, evaluating the data critically, it can be concluded that the increase in crime is the result of the severe economic downturn rather than the reform which has eliminated the draconian laws which were ineffective for reducing either the rates of drug addiction or illegal sale (Walder, 2010). The changes in the drug legislation enacted by the Drug Law Reform of 2009 were predetermined with the obsoleteness and ineffectiveness of draconian Rockefeller drug laws and the peculiarities of the social economical situation in the country.

Though longer time lag is required for evaluating the variety of implications of Drug Law Reform which was signed in April of 2009, its preliminary positive consequences are obvious at present. Taking into account the fact that Rockefeller Laws were ineffective for reducing the number of drug crimes, it can be noted that the reform of 2009 is a step forward in choosing a more effective strategy for struggling against the underlying causes of the problem instead of eliminating the consequences.

Reference List

Kamins, B. (2009). Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 brings dramatic changes. New York Law Journal.

Lawson, R. (2009-2010). Drug law reform – retreating from an incarceration addiction. Kentucky Law Journal, 98: P, 201- 259.

Mancuso, P. (2010) Resentencing after the ‘fall’ of Rockefeller: The failure of the drug law reform acts of 2004 and 2005 to remedy the injustices of New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws and the compromise of 2009. Albany Law Review, 73 (4): p. 1535.

Walder, N. (2010). NY reform saved 1 000 drug offenders from prison in first year, report says. New York Law Journal.