It should have happened decades ago -- but better late than never.
Gove. David Paterson and the legislative leaders have reached agreement to repeal or water down much of the Rockefeller drug laws. These laws, imposed in the 1970s, were among the strictest in the nation. Many young people were imprisoned for years for possessing or using relatively small amounts of drugs.
It's ironic that these laws were devised by one of New York's most liberal governors, Nelson Rockefeller. It happened at a time when the nation was suffering from an epidemic of drug use and the crimes associated with this phenomenon. Gov. Rockefeller, even as he considered the possibility of running for president, was trying to show conservative Republicans that he was sensitive to their concerns but, also, he wanted to meet a public demand for get-tough policies.
These laws took discretion away from judges, providing for mandatory sentences for relatively small offenses. As a result many young people spent the best years of their lives in prison for minor crimes.
The revamped laws will repeal many mandatory sentences and give judges the opportunity to send first-time offenders to treatment instead of prison.
“We're putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” Jeffrion L. Aubry, a Queens Assemblyman who led the repeal campaign, told the New York Times. “To me that is the restoration of justice.”
At a time when wrangling over the MTA's plan to raise fares and impose bridge tolls and New York's budget woes are increasing anxiety for many of us, it's good that Albany leaders were able to get together on this long sought goal.
It took more than three decades for New York to correct this mistake, but it's finally happened. And, for a change, we can rejoice in an Albany achievement.