New York’s Gov. David Paterson may be ridiculously unpopular these days, but if anything, his legacy will include accomplishing something that no one could for over 30 years: reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.
The governor visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to mark the day the reforms, through a deal reached in Albany last March, went into effect.
“Today is a day for second chances,” Gov. Paterson said to a crowd gathered in the Kings County courtroom.
Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, was there and lavished praise on the governor:
Governor Paterson deserves thanks and praise for getting the job done. He has been instrumental and worked tirelessly, first as a state senator from Harlem and then as governor, to make these reforms happen.
But Papa still said much needs to be done:
Now that the laws have been reformed, we have to make sure the changes are done right. Advocates and service providers have jumped in and have been working diligently to prepare for implementation.
The revisions to the law, signed by Paterson in April, now gives judges the option of sending nonviolent offenders to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs rather then sending them to jail. Under the old laws, there were mandatory minimums of 15 years to life, even for first-time offenders. The law that went into effect on Wednesday will also allow lawyers for nonviolent offenders to file petitions to judges for resentencing, although no one is guaranteed this chance. Each case—and advocates estimate there may be up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals eligible—will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.