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Legal Issue: The Rockefeller Laws

The Rockefeller laws were enacted in 1973. Yet, their effects turned to be long-lasting and still echo today. The presented paper aims to analyze the legal and social issues surrounding these laws, determine the stakeholders of them and provide the overall assessment of them from the sociological perspective.

The legal issue at question refers to the regulation of the drug-trafficking and the impact the legislative initiatives might have on the political environment within the state. It directly refers to the Rockefeller laws on drug trafficking that were enacted in 1973. In accordance with these regulations, the criminal responsibility for all drug-related crimes was severely increased. The selling of the two ounces of heroin or morphine, cocaine or cannabis, the possession of four ounces of such could result in the fifteen-year imprisonment. The term was limited to twenty five years of life in prison for the drug-related offense. Nearly the same sentences applied to the crimes committed under the influence of these drugs. The laws almost immediately led to the rise in the number of the incarcerated population. Yet, there was no significant effect on the crime rates.

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The legal initiative was copied by the legislators from the state of Michigan. Yet, both of them were severely criticized for criminalizing the non-violent crimes and the equaling of the drug trafficking to the murders. The medical problem was tried to be resolved through the mass jailing and, in the end, deprivation of the freedom turned out to be totally ineffective. Eventually, in 2009, the laws were softened as the mandatory minimum sentence was removed (Mancuso, 2009). The alteration provided the judges with the right of sentencing the defendants to the short sentences or treatment programs.

Nevertheless, the New York City area remains to be the place where one could be arrested for the possession of cannabis. 

The Context Surrounding the Adoption of the Laws

The context of passing the law was quite diverse and mixed with the political aspirations and the failure of the therapeutic and drug rehabilitation programs. On the one hand, the laws were passed in advent of the presidential elections, so that one should bear in mind the political perturbations that accompanied the legislation. The bill was proposed and supported by the governor Nelson Rockefeller who had been nurturing the presidential aspirations for quite a long time. Yet, he was frequently accused of being too liberal and weak. To show the muscles, Rockefeller decided to criminalize the petty offenses related to the drug trafficking. He believed that the alterations of the current laws on drugs, especially the strengthening of the criminal responsibility for the drug-related offenses, would demonstrate his iron will and the capabilities to pass tough decisions. As a result, the bill was born.

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On the other hand, there was a strong need to serve the laws under special sauce to prove the social urgency and extreme necessity of passing these laws. The administrators and the politicians presented the legislation as the instrument that could be employed in the war on drugs. They created the dichotomy connections between the "public" on the one side and "drug addicts" and "drug dealers" on the other side. The bill was proposed as the cure against the drug affected people used for the benefit of the New York community. And it should be stressed that the meaning of the "drug addict person" was severely altered in the rhetoric that surrounded the laws. Their social welfare and well-being was no longer the issue. More than that, they were considered to be out of the "general public". These groups were opposed to the normal citizens of the state having nothing to do with the drugs.

One should also keep in mind that the drug-addict was frequently positioned as the Black or Puerto Rican man. And such a representation affected the struggle between the Civil Rights activists who fought for the equality and citizenship for all and their opponents as well. In other words, the rumors that were waged in the corners suddenly became legitimate and there was no longer the need to whisper or silence one's voice when speaking of the suspicions regarding another black drug addicted person. The addicts eventually were presented as the "anti-citizens", as ones who could be opposed to the rights-bearing citizens. From the medical perspective, the drug addicts turned from being the diseased to be a disease (Kohler-Hausmann, 2010).

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Another reason that was voiced in the process of adoption of the laws referred to the failure of the therapeutic and rehabilitation programs to address the drug-related issues. The declaration of the latter allowed the politicians to offer the new vision of the state and its role in dealing with the drug addicted people. The laws, therefore, were designed on the premise of the failure of the therapeutic tools (Kohler-Hausmann, 2010). Concluding, the punitive policies helped to realize the political ambitions as the social facts.

Reflecting on the above mentioned, it should be stressed that the political ambitions of Nelson Rockefeller were definitely backed up by the failures of therapeutic programs and rehabilitation of the drug addicts. This reason is to be considered as the primary one. However, the laws indeed intended to clean up the streets of the New York City from the drug-addicted people and drug dealers as well as all other crimes associated with the drug trafficking. 

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Critical Review of the Issue

The benefits of the presented legal issues are over exceeded by the disadvantages. Yet, there are still certain positive consequences of the Rockefeller laws.

On the large scale, the citizens of the New York City were among those who were expected to benefit from the laws. Before the enacting of the latter, the streets of New York were filled with the drug cartels and corners where it was easy to buy drugs. The laws providing for the strict responsibility for all activities related to drugs had disseminated the fear among those who operated in this sector. Definitely, those who considered choosing this career gave up their choices. In the long-run perspective, the murder rate increased by 500%.

In the light of the new amendments that are nowadays discussed in the Senate, the prosecutors are also among those who significantly benefited from the Rockefeller laws. The prosecutors' lobby insists on the remaining status quo in the relation to the drug laws. In accordance with the current legislation, the judges have little impact on the sentence of the defendant in the drug-related case (Sengupta, 2001). They are limited to the minimum and maximum sentences. They can only take into consideration the amount if the drugs seized from the defendant as well as the criminal record of the latter. These judicial restrictions empower the prosecutors to have the total control over the case (Sengupta, 2001). Therefore, they frequently employ the threat of the long imprisonment to the plea bargains from some of the prisoners.

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It should also be stressed that the political activism is not inherent for the prosecutors so that it is presumed that they indeed benefit greatly from the old laws of drug trafficking. More than that, the experts consider that all those who have the stakes in this law, including the police officers, the sheriffs, state correction officers and others have never been as politically active as today. No wonder, the police officers were empowered to perform the searches having the reasonable reason to believe that the person might possess the illegal substances equaled to the drugs. All of this became available due to the Rockefeller laws. 

The citizens also benefit from these laws in the light of the public safety. The drug-related offenses usually lead to the committing of other crimes such as murders, stealing, robbery, violent crimes and others. The decrease in the crime rate associated with the drug trafficking leads to the fewer crimes.

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However, it should be stressed that the Rockefeller laws have been frequently criticized for their aim to create the punitive state that intend to punish the citizens for the petty crimes. The outcomes of the laws were far reaching and long-lasting.

First of all, the Black as well as other colored population was significantly affected by these laws. As it was claimed before, the latter were referred to as the drug -addicts or the people closely involved in the process of the drug trafficking. However, whereas before the enacting of the laws these suspicions were the rumors only, after the adoption of it, the massive arrests of the black and colored people had started all over the New York City Area. As Fortner (2013) asserts "African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are incarcerated at almost twice the rate of whites". In accordance with the statistics, over 38% of all blacks who were incarcerated were sentenced again in comparison with 25% of all whites.

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Moreover, one fifth of all blacks who currently serve their terns in prison were jailed due to the drug-related accusations. And only 15% of all white convicts were sentenced for the drug trafficking crimes. These statistics speaks for itself. The black community suffered the most from the Rockefeller laws. Before the adoption of this legislation, they waged the war for the civil rights and equal citizenship. Obviously, this fight was diminished after these massive incarcerations of the blacks. The thing is that in the minds of the public these people were viewed as the in-born criminals deserving the punishment. The social perception of them made them criminals long before they were even tried. And the Rockefeller laws even worsened the situation. The racism definitely corrodes the criminal justice system (Fortner, 2013).

However, the laws have significantly impacted on the youngsters living in the New York City. The majority of those facing the charges of committing the drug-related offense have never been prosecuted by the police. Yet, the results of the convictions of these young adults might be too detrimental for the society as they become more vulnerable to crime as they make the contacts in the prisons. They have greater chances of returning to the jails. More than that, the fact of being incarcerated for the crime definitely negatively affects the employment history of the young adults. As a result, the lives of the latter, their well-being might be spoilt by only one mistake committed in rather vulnerable age.

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Eventually, those who suffer the most from the Rockefeller laws are the prison employees and the citizens. Since the introduction of these laws, the population of the prisons decreased by 500% due to the rise of the people incarcerated for the drug crimes charges. The citizens, in this case, have defeated due to the failure of the legislators to incorporate the widest community of the blacks into the deliberations over the drugs laws. They should have done so in order to decrease the risks associated with the non-compliance. Moreover, the African-Americans obviously felt under the scope of these laws most frequently and, thus, their representatives, at least those coming from the middle class, could have been invited for the discussion (Herman, 2000). Additionally, the legislators should have ensured that the drug dealers would not be incarcerated together with the drug addicts. However, all of these initiatives failed and this failure eventually led to the overpopulation of the American prisons which testifies the inefficiency of the reform. It should also be stressed that these laws have simply become the instruments of the racism control and have benefited the creation of the punitive state. As Barker (2006) asserts, "rather than invest in long term social engineering, rehabilitation, or even crime prevention, imprisonment is a visible and quite dramatic expression of state action".











Social Work Perspective on the Issue

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has also recently announced its stance on the issue. More than that, the organization issued the bulletin (2013) where it severely criticizes the Rockefeller drug laws for their detrimental effect on the society. It also refers to the impact that the laws have on the racism issues in the state and indicates that the increase in the competencies of the law-enforcing bodies led to the increase of the number of the black criminals imprisoned for the drug-related crimes. Additionally, the organization pays special attention to the young adults who have been charged with the drug offences. It asserts that their lives might be put at risk due to the only one misdemeanor related to the drugs. Moreover, the association asserts that the long-term sentences of the young adults increase the chances of rise of the poverty rates within the American society.

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Criticizing the laws on drug trafficking, the association offers an alternative. It asserts that the drug offenders should be treated as the diseased people just as it was before the enacting of the laws. The association stresses on the positive effects of the rehabilitation programs as well as the advances that have been made in this area since 1973. The bulletin also cites the results of the research that "demonstrates that providing treatment to individuals involved in the criminal justice system decreases future drug use and criminal behavior while improving social functioning". Advocating for the more social approach towards the solution of the program, NASW also advises to adopt this system as it is more cost-effective than prisons and other punitive methods used so far.

I definitely agree with the recommendations provided by NASW. The advantages of the alternative approach are obvious. The state can benefit not only from the cured individual, but also from his or her impact as the healthy and drug-free person on the society. The latter tend to work and pay taxes instead of making the criminal contacts while serving their terms in the jails. Moreover, whereas the punishment has more retrospective action since it is awarded for the actions committed in the past, the rehabilitation equips the person with the chance of having the new life, new chances.

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In conclusion, it should be stressed that the Rockefeller drug laws have turned out to be rather inefficient. Promulgated first to satisfy the political ambitions of the governor Rockefeller, these laws eventually led to the overpopulation of prisons without the decrease of the overall crime rates. Those who have benefited from these laws are few and include the law enforcement agents mostly. On the contrary, despite of the expected benefits for the society, the citizens of the New York City have experienced the tensions based on the racism basis; the increase of the punitive methods exercised towards them together with the significantly negative social consequences stemming from the incarcerations of the young adults. All in all, it is recommended to change the approaches applied to the drug-related offenders to the more social-centered one.

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