ALBANY—Will this actually be the year for Rockefeller Drug Law reform?
“I think we have a better shot than ever if Paterson takes a leadership role,” said Anthony Papa, who served 12 years under the laws before he was granted clemency by George Pataki in 1997.
David Paterson mentioned the need to reform the laws in his speech yesterday, saying he “cannot think of a criminal justice strategy that has been more unsuccessful” in its purpose. He was a supporter of reforming the laws as a state senator.
“Even to have the issue addressed in the State of the State is big news. It shows he has some compassion for Rockefeller offenders,” said Papa. He noted that a week ago, the laws didn’t appear to be on Paterson’s radar. The governor eventually granted clemency to one inmate serving a drug crime sentence.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he was glad to hear the call for reform in the speech, and called the laws “draconian.”
The real shift lies in the State Senate. The laws have been held up there for years, with State Senator Dale Volker leading the charge. Malcolm Smith has said he supports reforming the laws. Skelos was asked about it:
“I’m going to rely on Dale Volker working on that with our conference,” he said. “I want to see what reforms we’re talking about, but we have to be very careful in terms of any changes that anybody that’s been a real drug dealer, they deserve to be in jail.”
Another factor is the State Commission on Sentencing Reform, created by Eliot Spitzer to look at the laws. It’s unclear how closely Paterson will mirror the commission’s recommendations, which Papa doesn’t believe will go far enough.