Compared to other countries, the United State of America is the number one country in imprisoning people. These statistics were recently revealed in an article published by a National Public Radio. As a result of this, longer sentences and more imprisonments usually cause dangerous overcrowding in the prison system. The frequent sentencing and imprisonments of individuals have resulted in the flooding of prisons, which is highly detrimental to their health and overall well-being. This is not how it used to be. It used to be much better than that.
Back in 1973, the government introduced certain laws to increase the minimum sentences of those that are in possession of drugs, as well as those that are selling it. The US government did this in response to the growing anxiety in the country about drug abuse and use. The first city the laws took effect was in New York, and the governor in charge of the city then was Nelson Rockefeller.
The political ambitions of Nelson Rockefeller, as well as his 180-degree turn on tackling the drug issue, was spectacular. The effect of his governance and the way he handled the issue started to impact the rest of the country. From top drug lords down to low-level drug criminals has to pay for their doings. Drug offenders did not only get a “slap on the wrist,” even the lowest offenders paid for their offenses with serious time behind bars.
Before the government imposed these laws, Rockefeller believed that the drug problem in New York could significantly reduce with vocational training, rehabilitation, and affordable housing. He looked at it as a social issue. Unluckily, New York City encountered a major drug epidemic. The use of heroin increased significantly. The street corners were filled with drug dealers and junkies, and the government had issues keeping them out of the street. Some neighborhoods became very dangerous, as they were taken over and run by gangs. This resulted in an enormous increase in the homicide rate that it is today.
On seeing the drastic damage it is causing in the city, Rockefeller changed his attitude towards drugs instantly. The quick action of Rockefeller was most likely influenced by the declaration of President Nixon. President Nixon said that drug abuse is Public Enemy Number One of America in 1971. The declaration of President Nixon and the situation of things in New York City made Rockefeller change his stance on drugs very quickly. Furthermore, his research of the zero-tolerance approach of Japan also played a role.
In the eyes of Rockefeller, the new laws they introduced were meant to protect the innocent from those people that are selling and abusing drugs. His new stance was tagged “rough on crime.” The new stance made him seem dedicated to taking a no-nonsense approach in tackling the drug problems in the country. His approach was very effective and he was determined to reduce the drug problems in the country significantly. Furthermore, his political career also benefited from his stance on drugs, as it made him more favorable to conservative voters.
The new laws of Nelson Rockefeller passed through the New York State legislature very quickly. However, it experienced some pushbacks from liberal politicians and drug treatment professionals. They believed that the new laws would put several young minorities, even those with no convictions before, behind bars even if they are found with very little amounts of a drug. The laws faced a lot of criticisms. Nevertheless, irrespective of all the criticisms, similar laws sprung up all over the country. Different cities started coming up with similar laws to protect innocent people in their cities.
As such laws passed through legislatures, the population of the prison system hit record levels. These laws affected many and prisons were overcrowded. They built new federal and state prisons to accommodate the people that these laws affected. The laws caught up both those selling the drugs and those using it. They all found themselves locked behind bars for a very long period. Hence, the prison system was full of drug dealers and drug addicts. Once you are caught in possession of drugs, no matter how small it is, you would have to pay for it behind bars.
What Were the Rockefeller Drug Laws?
Rockefeller believed that more modest approaches to resolving the drug epidemic of New York City were not just working. More friendly strategies were not doing the job and the situation was getting worse. Rockefeller wanted the entire situation to be under control. He felt that being strict to the core on drug laws would significantly reduce the drug epidemic in the state. He believed stricter laws would discourage others from possessing or selling drugs.
As part of the effort to significantly reduce the drug epidemic in the state, he pushed for a minimum of fifteen years to life sentence. The law was applicable to even those that are selling very small amounts (two ounces) of drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. This came with no chances for parole, deals, or probation. A maximum sentence included twenty-five years to life. As earlier mentioned, the intention of Rockefeller was not just to punish those involved in selling and possessing drugs, but to protect innocent people. Innocent people are usually victims of the effect of hard drugs. The use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana has increased the crime rate on the streets, and the innocents are mostly affected.
As expected, the new laws changed the lives of so many. Many families and lives were transformed. The law certainly increased imprisonments. However, it did not impact the drug problem of New York City as Rockefeller envisioned. Many top drug pushers were arrested and persecuted. They spend years behind bars. The lives of those who had no prior criminal history, many in the minority and lower-class neighborhoods, were impacted significantly. However, some people had a difficult time controlling their addictions. Just threatening to lock them behind bars for years does not tackle the root causes of their substance abuse issue. Many of them have been involved for a very long time and a few days behind bars as punishment is not doing the trick for them. As such, Rockefeller did not get the results that he envisioned. However, the law was effective to an extent.
The Drug Law of Rockefeller Reforms
In the early twenty-first century, legislators in New York City modified some of the rigid sentences. For instance, back in 2004, the New York legislators reduced the fifteen years to life penalty to eight years in prison for those that do not have prior convictions. Furthermore, in 2009, legislators in the state removed compulsory minimum sentences. Judges could also decide to make drug treatment or probation compulsory for those convicted of certain drug offenses. Regardless of what your opinion is regarding Rockefeller Drug Laws, you should always know that drug addiction or substance abuse is a progressive disease that has affected many lives.
Many lives are rendered useless today because of addiction. Some have been separated from their loved ones, some have lost their job, some have chronic health issues, some are terribly broke and even in debt because of addiction. Some people just lack the knowledge or resources to get the appropriate help that they need desperately.
These people might not be acting according to the law. However, for their lives to change, they need to treat their disease. They need to find a solution to their problem, and facing the consequences of their deeds would not solve the problem. This is why these people need to get substance abuse treatment as fast as possible. Substance abuse treatment is of utmost importance for those that are struggling with addiction. Some of these people do not even know where to start from when it comes to looking for the help they need.
We are also in support of other drug laws that inflate the prison system. We are proposing better ways of tackling this issue. We are advocating investment in education, preventing, empowerment, and not sending these addicts behind bars. Many of them even return to their old ways after serving for years, simply because going to jail does not stop the problem. They need a lasting solution, one that would take care of the root cause of their substance abuse issue. We are here to help them through their recovery process and find the perfect treatment option for them.
If you are addicted to any of the above substances, you can reach out for help and regain your freedom from substance use. The very first step to your freedom is admitting and making up your mind that you need help.