Tags: Second | Chance | for | Drug | Offenders

A Second Chance for Drug Offenders

Tuesday, 28 December 2004 12:00 AM

Those laws, enacted to stem the escalating drug tide back in the 1970s, mandated severe prison sentences for drug offenders who possessed relatively small amounts of contraband drugs, e.g., cocaine and heroin. Even minor drug offenders were given mandatory prison sentences of 5 to 15 years. Those who possessed larger amounts of drugs were given mandatory sentences of 15 to 25 years to life.

None of these actions will help those who have already served their time. Several hundred thousand who have been released after serving their draconian sentences and want to lead law-abiding lives are unable to find jobs. This is due in large part to the frequent questioning of job applicants concerning prior criminal convictions and the nature of those convictions. Prospective employers do not view convicted drug offenders kindly.

Having a job means more than just earning a living. It also enables a motivated individual to marry and have children. A job, a spouse and family support are probably the most important factors in stopping someone from resuming criminal drug activity, keeping drug free and leading a law-abiding life.

My Second Chance proposal would apply to non-violent drug offenders leaving prison. If these offenders undertake required obligations provided in the legislation such as entering a drug and alcohol dependency treatment program, obtaining a GED if they have not graduated from high school, having an arrest and conviction-free record for five years after leaving prison, and completing a public service program of at least one year, they could then apply to a state board, to be known as the Second Chance Commission. A separate bill would be required to deal with those convicted under federal law.

State and federal boards would be empowered to grant the ex-offender the right to respond to an employer’s question on a prior conviction with the answer “no.” An eligible person is defined in the proposed law as “a person who has been convicted of an eligible felony or an eligible misdemeanor, provided however that no person shall be an eligible person when such person has been convicted of more than two eligible felonies or more than two eligible misdemeanors…”

When I first proposed the legislation, there were few legislators willing to consider it, either in New York state or in Congress. I thought I needed the support of some well-known black public figures to draw attention to the proposal. I enlisted the aid of two – Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard and the Reverend Al Sharpton. They both accepted sponsorship of the proposal and brought credibility and support to the legislation.

In the New York State Assembly, former Democratic Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez sponsored the legislation and got it passed in the Assembly. Republican State Senator Dale Volker sponsored the bill in the New York State Senate. I also interested Governor Pataki in the legislation and he told me he would support it at some point after he had secured a change in the Rockefeller laws. The governor, the Assembly and the Senate have now achieved that goal.

So now, the question I ask is when will we see the Second Chance proposal enacted into law? Jeff Aubry (Dem.) is now the sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly. Dale Volker continues to support the bill in the Senate. It is time for this critical reform to be implemented now. The legal maxim that surely applies here is “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

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Those laws, enacted to stem the escalating drug tide back in the 1970s, mandated severe prison sentences for drug offenders who possessed relatively small amounts of contraband drugs, e.g., cocaine and heroin.Even minor drug offenders were given mandatory prison sentences...
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2004-00-28
Tuesday, 28 December 2004 12:00 AM
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