Pros and Cons of Recent Rockefeller Reforms

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The reforms represent the beginning of the end for the Rockefeller Drug Laws. But there is still work to be done.


  • The reforms restore judicial discretion for broad categories of individuals charged with drug offenses, including many individuals convicted of second felony drug crimes.
  • The reforms provide for a significant increase in funding for drug treatment and rehabilitation programs in prisons and for community-based alternatives to incarceration.
    The reforms provide for a greater role for the State’s Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services in monitoring and guiding drug treatment programs in prisons.
    Some individuals currently confined for drug offenses will be able to petition the courts for a reduction in their sentences.


  • Some mandatory sentencing provisions remain on the books and will continue to catch in their net large numbers of low-level persons convicted of drug crimes who will face lengthy prison terms.
  • The main criterion for guilt remains the weight of drugs found on people at the point of arrest–not their role in the transaction–a provision that will likely perpetuate the disproportionate policing of New York’s low-income communities of color, where drugs are more likely to be dealt on the street and it is easier to make arrests.
  • Only about 1,500 of the nearly 12,000 people currently incarcerated under the laws will likely be eligible for retroactive resentencing.
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