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On the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, a Look at Criminal Justice From New York to Tulia to Tallulah

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Today is the beginning of the 30th anniversary of New York State’s Rockefeller Drug Laws, some of the harshest anti-drug laws in the country. They were pushed through the state legislature in 1973 by then-governor Nelson Rockefeller. The laws require a minimum sentence of 15 years for minor possession of drugs. The laws mostly result in the imprisonment of first-time, low-level drug offenders. Most are poor, most are people of color.

Hundreds of New Yorkers will gather outside Governor Pataki’s office today to demand that he “Drop the Rock” and overturn Rockefeller’s 1973 legislation.

Elaine Bartlett is one of three women prisoners granted by clemency Governor George Pataki last year. She was sent to the Bedford Hills maximum security prison in 1984 when she was 16 years old. She was 42 when she left.


  • Elaine Bartlett, member of the Mothers of the Disappeared who will protest outside the governor’s office today. She served 16 years for a drug conviction and was granted clemency in December 1999.
  • Wanda Best, member of Mothers of the New York Disappeared.
  • Randy Credico, Director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.
  • Reverend Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network.


  • If There’s Hell Below–Curtis Mayfield, Dead Presidents Movie Soundtrack (Capitol CD).

We go now to the story of an 18 month undercover drug sting in Tulia Texas, where 43 people in the small town were arrested for allegedly selling or delivering Coleman powder cocaine. 40 of those arrested were African-American. That was 16% of Tulia’s African-American population. The evidence? The word of one man, undercover agent Tom Coleman. Last month a judge dropped the charges against one of those arrested in the infamous drug sting, Tonya White. She was the last of 46 people indicted in connection with the controversial drug sting. She joins us in the studio today.

Meanwhile, family and friends of Louisiana’s child prisoners descended on the state capital yesterday to demand the Tallulah youth prison be closed down. Tallulah is the most notorious juvenile prison in a state known for its brutal juvenile prisons. The state seized control of the facility from its private owners in 1999, but parents told their legislators yesterday that little has changed. Yesterday parents laid a symbolic wreath on the steps of the capitol to memorialize the dying dreams of Louisiana’s incarcerated children.


  • David Utter, Director, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.
  • Tonya White, recently exonerated defendant in the Tulia, Texas drug sting.
  • Jeff Blackburn, Cooperating Council for the ACLU of Texas, which brought a lawsuit against the District Attorney and Sheriffs of Swisher County.
  • Chris Hoffman, civil attorney for the defendants in the Tulia, Texas drug sting.

Related links:


  • If There’s Hell Below–Curtis Mayfield.

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