Modal close

Dear Democracy Now! visitor,

You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose corporate and government abuses of power. Democracy Now! brings you crucial reporting like our coverage from the front lines of the standoff at Standing Rock or news about the movements fighting for peace, racial and economic justice, immigrant rights and LGBTQ equality. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation—all without ads, government funding or corporate sponsorship. How is this possible? Only with your support. If every visitor to this site in December gave just $10 we could cover our basic operating costs for 2017. Pretty exciting, right? So, if you've been waiting to make your contribution to Democracy Now!, today is your day. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in 2017.

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.

Topics

Harsh New York Rockefeller Drug Laws Turn 30: Hip Hop Pioneer Russell Simmons & Anthony Papa Who Served 12 Years for a First-Time Offense Call for Repeal of the Laws

StoryMay 08, 2003
Watch iconWatch Full Show

Three decades ago today, New York became the first state in the nation to require harsh prison sentences for all drug offenders.

The new laws 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. Enforcement of the laws rarely hit drug kingpins. Instead, judges were forced to imprison mostly first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Most of them are poor, most are people of color.

Dozens of other states and the federal government rushed to adopt their own versions of the Rockefeller drug laws when New York State set the precedent.

Today, New York and California alone retain their mandatory minimum sentences.

The movement to scrap the laws is continuing to grow. Last year, former New York Senator John Dunne appeared in a TV commercial. He said: "In 1973, I sponsored the Rockefeller drug laws, which have been a well-documented failure."

  • Anthony Papa, was convicted of a first-time, non-violent drug possession charge in 1985 under the tough anti-drug laws signed by Governor Rockefeller which left the judge no choice but to impose a harsh prison sentence of 15 Years to Life. At the time, Papa, married with one daughter. Papa spent the next 12 years behind bars at Sing Sing prison. During that time, he earned degrees in behavioral science, theology and paralegal studies. He also learned to paint. Papa became an accomplished and acclaimed artist, painting a powerful collection of images relating to his prison experience. One of his pieces, "15 Years to Life," was exhibited at the Whitney Museum.
  • Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records and one of the most successful recording executives, producer, promoters in the hip hop world. Last year he helped form the Hip-hop Summit Action Network.
  • Randy Credico, director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.

Related link:


The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.

Make a donation