New York's so-called Rockefeller drug laws were some of the toughest mandatory minimum drug sentences ever created -- and they were recently reformed and mostly repealed. But what is their legacy?
In case you missed it, this NPR radio duo of shows describes the Rockefeller drug laws' impact, both human and fiscal.
This segment describes how the draconian Rockefeller drug laws shaped a whole era of sentencing policy, and how we are still living with the results: long, mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug crimes; too many people in prisons; budgets crunched and crumbling trying to maintain an unsustainable system. It all sounded good at the time, to the public and to lawmakers, but decades later, state after state is realizing the folly of mandatory minimum sentences.
Congress should take note and reform federal mandatory sentences.
Lest we forget the human impact, this segment tells the story of George Prendes, who served 15 years without parole for a New York state drug offense:
There are roughly half a million people behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes in America. But no one really knows how many people have been sentenced to long prison bids since the laws known as Rockefeller drug laws first passed 40 years ago.
What's clear is that tough sentencing laws, even for low-level drug dealers and addicts, shaped a generation of young men, especially black and Hispanic men.
Men like George Prendes, now 59. Born in Cuba, he now works long hours as a telemarketer, barely making rent on his tiny, cluttered apartment in the Bronx.
"It's just the drudgery," Prendes says of his life today. "I mean at my age, I shouldn't be struggling like this."
His wife, Yvonne, says prison carved a hole in the middle of Prendes' life.
"His experience damaged a part of him, you know? Wanting to recuperate the time lost," she says. "And you just can't do that. You can't get those 15 years back."