DrugSense FOCUS Alert #195 Sunday January 21, 2001

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #195 Sunday January 21, 2001
Posted by FoM on January 22, 2001 at 07:15:37 PT
NYT Recognizes, But Doesn't Understand
Source: MapInc.
As New York Governor George Pataki calls for state drug law reform, the New York Times has decided to analyze the reasons why. The article suggests that because crime rates are down, people are more tolerant of drug users, so they support lightening punishments. Whatever truth there may be in that perspective, the article does not mention the fact that the drug war as a whole always creates more problems than solutions, and that more and more people are arriving at this inescapable conclusion.
Please write a letter to the NYT to say it's good to see coverage of drug law reform, but that the problem isn't just with New York drug laws - it's the drug war itself. WRITE A LETTER TODAYIt's not what others do it's what YOU do PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER OR TELL US WHAT YOU DID (Letter, Phone, fax etc.)Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent letter list: sentlte if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to: MGreer Your letter will then be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts and be motivated to follow suit This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our impact and effectiveness.CONTACT INFO:Source: New York Times (NY) Contact: letters ARTICLEUS NY: Signs Of A Thaw In The War On DrugsURL: Newshawk: Rob Ryan Source: New York Times (NY)Author: James C. Mckinley Jr.Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jan 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Address: 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 Fax: (212) 556-3622 Contact: letters Website: Forum:  ALBANY, Jan 20  Three recent events hint at a change in public attitudes toward the war on drugs. On Wednesday, Gov. George E. Pataki proposed softening the harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws in New York State. Gov. Christie Whitman of New Jersey acknowledged that her state police had been stopping black and Hispanic drivers as part of a drug-enforcement effort the public once applauded and moved to stop the practice.And within the last two weeks President Clinton has not only urged a re-examination of federal drug sentencing, but also proposed equalizing penalties for possession of powdered and crack cocaine, on the ground that the stiffer penalties for crack discriminated against members of ethnic minorities.If politicians are societal weather vanes, then the war on drugs seems to be losing some appeal.For decades, experts on drug addiction have argued that long prison terms for nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom are addicts as well, are less effective than drug-treatment programs at reducing crime. They also say imprisonment is more expensive than treatment. The country's prison population has grown to two million, and a quarter of the inmates are serving time for drug offenses. Until recently, though, these arguments have failed to move many Americans or their public officials. But now the cause is being joined by Republican governors and an outgoing president who greatly expanded federal financing for drug interdiction and local law enforcement, and gave $1 billion to help the Colombian military attack cocaine trafficking.Why are critics of the drug war making headway now? The answer, criminologists and other experts say, may lie in the waning of the public's fear of crime.Fear begets intolerance. People and the politicians they elect are more willing to put up with severe penalties for relatively minor drug offenses when crime rates are high, as it was in New York City in the late 1960's and early 1970's, the period that produced the Rockefeller laws.At the time, heavy heroin use in the city was widely blamed for rapidly increasing property crime. The city experienced another, more murderous, crime wave in the late 80's and early 90's when crack cocaine became popular. City officials responded with a huge expansion of the police force and an aggressive campaign against street dealers and people carrying concealed guns.Now, though, crime has declined steadily for several years, and violent crime in New York City has reached its lowest levels since 1967. Fear has eased, and the public has begun to question some harsher elements of the war on drugs and crime. "There is a pretty clear correlation between the crime rate and criticism of law-enforcement officials for being too tough," said the director of the Jerry Lee Criminology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence Sherman. "As crime rates drop, you see more people complaining about the cops."At the same time, legions of people whose children are serving lengthy sentences under the Rockefeller laws have begun making their presence felt in Albany. Many are black and Latino, and many maintain that the laws, as enforced, discriminate against their ethnic groups. More than 21,000 people are serving time for drug convictions in New York State, about 95 percent of whom are black or Hispanic. About 70 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes. "Where is the sanity?" asks Mary Mortimer of New York City, who has two sons serving prison time, one 15 to 30 years, the other 10 to 20, both for possession of small amounts of cocaine with intent to sell. "I'd like to be able to spend some time with my sons on this earth before I leave here."These days Mr. Pataki can afford the political consequences of listening to Mary Mortimer and people like her. After six years in office, his reputation as a tough-on-crime governor is well established. He pushed for and signed the death penalty back into law, he increased sentences for many crimes, and he eliminated parole for violent crimes.The governor may also be reacting to the political winds from other parts of the country as well. In November, California voters passed a proposition requiring the state to direct most people convicted of nonviolent drug possession into treatment programs rather than prison. Arizona passed a similar law, and the governor of New Mexico has said he plans to introduce comparable changes this year. Even some New York legislators who voted for the Rockefeller laws in 1973 now advocate their repeal. John R. Dunne, a former state senator from Long Island, has formed a coalition to lobby the governor with other former state lawmakers, including Warren Anderson, who was Senate majority leader from Binghamton.In the early 70's, besides the heroin epidemic, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller was faced with a youthful counter-culture, particularly in New York City, that often celebrated "sex, drugs and rock and roll," as a line from a popular song put it. Governor Rockefeller, a liberal Republican, first tried to persuade the Legislature to create the Narcotics Addiction Control Commission and establish secure residential treatment centers around the state. He also started methadone clinics for addicts. Those efforts proved costly and failed to reduce crime. So in 1973, a frustrated Mr. Rockefeller proposed the "lock them up and throw away the key" approach. Some historians have said that Mr. Rockefeller had his eye on the presidency and hoped to appear more conservative. In any case, he persuaded the Legislature, over the objections of some New York City lawmakers, to pass the laws that carry his name. At the time, the state had 12,000 state prison inmates. Today it has 70,000. Oddly enough, the laws put the state out of step with the times.In 1970, Congress had liberalized the harsh drug laws passed in the mid-1950's, eliminating many mandatory sentences for drug offenses and repealing the death penalty for heroin dealers who sold to minors. In 1977, President Carter formally advocated legalizing marijuana in amounts up to an ounce.It was not until 1986, after the effects of the cocaine craze of the early 1980's had begun to materialize, that Congress passed tough drug laws with mandatory sentences and the death penalty for what were called drug kingpins.Crack addiction and drive-by shootings dominated the headlines.The war on drugs was back with a vengeance, and the Rockefeller laws once again meshed with the tenor of the times. Judging by Mr. Pataki's latest proposal, however, the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way, in no small part, criminologists say, because violent crime is down 40 percent in New York since he took office. "The general public's attitude is more tolerant because the crime problem has been reduced so much," said Dr. David F. Musto of Yale University, an authority on the history of narcotics in America. In calling for these changes, which go much farther than changes he proposed in 1999, Governor Pataki is not abandoning his political roots. What he has proposed falls far short of repeal of the Rockefeller laws, a step that some critics have urged. They want judges to have discretion in sentencing for all narcotics cases.They also complain that Mr. Pataki has not called for changing what they see as the laws' biggest problem, the fact that their mandatory sentences are based on the weight of the drugs seized rather than on the role of the person arrested. So a low-level "mule," addicted himself, who is hired to cart some cocaine across town, can end up serving 15 years. Mr. Pataki has proposed reducing the mandatory sentence for the top class of drug offender to 10 years, from 15. The current laws impose a 15-year-to-life sentence for possession of more than four ounces of cocaine or heroin or for sale of two ounces or more. Judges would have discretion to send people to treatment only in the case of low-and mid-level drug offenses.One danger is that district attorneys, most of whom oppose weakening the law, will stop charging people with the lesser offenses. "The key to sentencing reform is giving judges discretion," said Anita Marton of the Legal Action Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization that specializes in drug issues and has offices in New York and Washington. "This tries to chip away at that but it doesn't get to the heart of the issue.This proposal is not going to affect the vast majority of offenders."If the debate in Albany or the vote in California is any indication, the war on drugs is not likely to be abandoned altogether. No one on either side of the debate over the Rockefeller drug laws is arguing that violent drug dealers should be given lesser sentences or that drugs should be legalized.But if Governor Pataki and the Legislature reach an agreement on changing the Rockefeller laws, the resulting legislation is likely to resemble the California model.The governor's aim is to retain harsh penalties for violent felons but move nonviolent addicts back into society. The hope is that the prison population will then drop but that high crime rates will not return. "The governor thinks it's good policy, that this is something it is time to do," said a spokeswoman for Mr. Pataki, Caroline Quartararo. "The crime rates are way down because we are locking up violent offenders for a long period of time." SAMPLE LETTERTo the editor:While it's always interesting to read about the declining appeal of the drug war, I thought the analysis in "Signs of a thaw in the war on drugs" (Jan. 21), missed a key point: As a miserable boondoggle expands, more people will take notice and speak up. The war on drugs grows year after year with more arrests and bigger budgets. For anyone who is willing to take an honest look, it's impossible to ignore the counterproductive results that have been reaped from decades of pushing for a "drug-free America." The problem isn't just with the Rockefeller laws. Governor Pataki and other leaders who are finally expressing some skepticism about some aspects of the drug war need to reevaluate of the whole concept of drug prohibition, not just the details. Stephen Young IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone numberPlease note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work. ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing efforts3 Tips for Letter Writers: Letter Writers Style Guide: TO SUBSCRIBE, DONATE, VOLUNTEER TO HELP, OR UPDATE YOUR EMAIL SEE: UNSUBSCRIBE SEE: Prepared by Stephen Young Focus Alert Specialist DrugSense FOCUS Alert #192 December 7, 2000 FOCUS Alert # 191 December 3, 2000 FOCUS Alert #190 November 18, 2000 MapInc. Archives 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on January 27, 2001 at 09:26:45 PT:
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #196 January 26, 2001
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