In the Democratic primary for state attorney general, Nassau DA Kathleen Rice has been taking heat from rival Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) over her commitment to the repeal of the draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws. It has been more of a signature issue for minority communities in the city, which Schneiderman counts on as a based, while some law-enforcement personnel have been critical of some aspects of the repeal. Here's a letter released by Schneiderman today:
Dear District Attorney Rice,
We are writing because we have been dismayed by your effort in recent days to mislead voters about your record and position on Rockefeller Drug Laws, and are respectfully asking that you cease claiming to have been a strong supporter of the landmark 2009 Rockefeller Drug Law reforms.
The truth is that not only did you lobby your Republican senator to oppose these measures, but as recently as last month, you even continued to oppose the core provision of the reform package: giving judges discretion in sentencing decisions.
This provision was key to the reform because the ineffective Rockefeller Drug Laws tied the hands of judges by requiring lengthy prison terms even for first-time non-violent drug offenders. Essentially, these laws allowed District Attorneys to decide who went to jail and for how long.
Disproportionately impacting communities of color, the Rockefeller Drug laws were devastating to blacks and Latinos across the state of New York for decades. Studies have shown that despite the fact that the majority of people who use and sell drugs in this state are white, over 90% of drug offenders in New York prisons are black and Latino.
After a watered-down version of reform without the judicial sentencing provision was passed by the Republicans in 2004, Andrew Cuomo called the bill "half-a-loaf," saying, "The pressure is for Rockefeller reform and that's not what this is. This is not judicial (sentencing) discretion. This is not significantly reducing the burdensome length of punishment...This is simply not what we've been working for all these years."
However, on May 17 of this year, your campaign continued to defend these onerous sentencing rules, saying, “As we have said, the District Attorney was concerned that removing prosecutors from the process would weaken the community's voice in these decisions. As the community's advocate, the District Attorney often knows the most about a defendant's background and is in a unique position to represent the community in determining which defendants receive treatment and which for-profit drug dealers go to jail.”
Stated simply, your opposition to this key judicial sentencing provision means that you did not – and indeed, currently do not – support the historic Rockefeller Drug Law reform package of 2009.
We therefore respectfully request that you cease claiming to have done so. For years, we all worked hard to pass these reforms, and we did so in spite of your lobbying and opposition. Please stop trying to mislead voters for your political gain.
Senator Jose Peralta
Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat
Hon. Robert Jackson, NYC Council Member
Hon. Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member
Hon. Ydanis Rodriguez, NYC Council Member