Albany, New York (March 31, 2005): New York State Senators Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Thomas K. Duane (D/WFP-Manhattan) this week held a public forum on the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the disproportionate impact these laws have had on women. Testimony was presented by various legal experts, advocates for drug law reform and women who where incarcerated under these laws. Senators Montgomery and Duane co-chair the NYS Senate Minority Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform.
Last December, the New York State Legislature enacted so-called "reforms" to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Many advocates believe these reforms do not go far enough and do very little to help women who were convicted of low-level drug offenses. It is estimated that only one percent of women inmates will benefit from the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms.
"Recent changes to New York’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws do very little to address the devastation these laws have caused to the lives of women and children of color," said Senator Montgomery.
Senator Montgomery pointed out that, due to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the number of women in New York prisons has increased 760% over the past three decades and 87% of those convicted of drug offenses are women of color.
The Brooklyn said, "Most women who are incarcerated for drug-related crimes are serving a sentence for a Class B, C, or D offenses. Recent drug law reform only allows a handful of women to have their sentences reduced. Additional retroactive sentencing reform is needed to enable the majority of women in prison to reduce their sentences and return home to their families."
According to Senator Montgomery, 75% of the women currently in prison are mothers to more than 6,000 children. "Thousands of these women have temporarily or permanently lost custody of their children based on evidence of drug use during pregnancy. Many children are forced to live in foster care and are never reunited with their mothers. The separation of mothers and children has devastating effects on the immediate and extended family unit, and this is especially true among communities of color," she said.
Underscoring the need for additional reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, Montgomery and Duane said further changes must include increased funding for drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration.