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Rockefeller Drug Laws History Research Paper


This drug law name comes from an American governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was the governor on the chair during the enactment of that law. Nelson strongly supported the law and signed it on May 1973.

The government and the citizens of New York thought that this law was the toughest among all other laws of that kind, and gave New York fame and recognition in the whole of United States (Feldman & Gerald, 2010).

Any possession, selling or production of cocaine, according to Rockefeller drug law was subjected to the least punishment of 5-year imprisonment or the worst of life imprisonment.

Women mostly suffered from this type of imprisonment as the conditions were not conducive for them. Women require a more hygienic environment than men, and that is why the life in prison did not favor them at all.

The main theme of Nelson Rockefeller to come up with the drug program was to assist the drug addicts, but the program became very expensive by the state. This drug law had a theme of stopping citizens from abusing and selling drugs as well as punishing the drug abusers by isolating them from the rest of the community.

The Rockefeller drug law later turned to be the law for women especially the Latina and the blacks. The major impacts of the Rockefeller drug law affected mostly the color communities especially the women and the children (Raphael, 2009).

The level of punishment according to the Rockefeller drug law depended mainly by the weight of the drugs in question. The law wanted the judges to give 15 years of imprisonment to the least amount of drug and a life imprisonment to the worst case. The major cases that were taken seriously were on heroin related crimes.

Sentencing structure of the law

Some convict did not mind the sentencing structure of this drug law especially men, but women and their children were greatly affected. It was a hard moment for women to serve all those years in prison bearing in mind that they are the children care takers.

In the year 1977, the committee that was in charge of drug evaluation in the United States, combined efforts with association of the bar and the Drug Abuse Council Corporation, to criticize the Rockefeller drug law (Turner, 2009).

The major theme of this report was to criticize the use of this law as it working ineffectively. That committee of three different organizations had done enough research that proved the usage of heroin and occurrence of offences due to usage of heroin was still at a very high rate.

The heroin related offences were also very common especially in 1976 just in the same manner as it was in 1973 before the enactment of the law (Feldman & Gerald, 2010).

The major concern of this committee was the fact that the government had come up with a budget of $76 million to enforce this law, together with additional 49 judges for handling the increased cases of drug abuse and drug related crimes.

The committee considered this as a great failure for the state. Most of the prisoners’ conviction was because of abusing marijuana, and the legislators decided to remove the abuse of marijuana from the list of the drugs covered under the Rockefeller law.

The legislators wanted to minimize the great resources that were in use as a way of solving and judging the cases of marijuana drug use (McLemore, 2009). The marijuana convicts, making the place crowded occupied the largest space in prisons. The legislators wanted to increase the space in prison for other convicts by removing the marijuana addicts.

The committee reaction was mainly based on the struggle that women were undergoing in prison. Most of these women were from families of irresponsible men who never cared about the wellbeing of their families (Samaha, 2005).

These women were getting involved in the business of drugs to cater for their needs and that of their children. During their efforts to make their ends meet, they found themselves in prisons serving many years than it was expected.

It was also a concern of the legislators that the penalty that the marijuana users received was too much for their mere possession or use of it, they claimed that these people deserved a lesser penalty for their actions while the prison rooms to be preserved for other serious criminal offences.

The continued criticisms went up to the year 1979, whereby the legislators decided to add the amount of drugs that deserved the 15-year imprisonment or the life imprisonment whether gotten in possession or in use of drugs. In 1988, the threshold weight of cocaine that was punishable by the 15-year imprisonment was adjusted.

The structural law of Rockefeller drug law required a judge to imprison any person got selling two ounces or holding four ounces of any drug substance (McLemore, 2009). The judge penalty was applicable without regard to any circumstances leading to the act of offence.

Changes of the law through the years

The changes of the Rockefeller drug law that came through the years mostly brought a sigh of relieve to women and their children. Women were oppressed by this law for many years and they longed for some reforms. The Rockefeller drug law has been changing over the years.

The law reform in 2004, 2005, and 2009 made several changes to this drug law, as an effort of making it appropriate and suitable for the citizens without any form of discrimination (Samaha, 2005).

These reforms also aimed at providing the convicts with a chance of asking for petition of the original sentencing through the applications of the new sentencing guidelines. For instance, the 2004 reform acts was the first initiative of improving the original Rockefeller drug law.

The main theme of this 2004 initiative was to change the overall sentencing guidelines concerning the drug cases by making determinate instead of indeterminate thus there was no need of putting a minimum and maximum imprisonment terms.

The 2004 act wanted the drug related crimes to have a specific and direct term of imprisonment like 3 or 6 years. This reform was very crucial especially to the A-1 and A-11 drug crimes.

This reform also affected the possession of drugs by doubling the amount of any drug possessed from four to eight ounces for the class A-1 crimes as well as that of the second degree A-11 from two to four ounces (McLemore, 2009).

For the drug-selling cases, the weight thresholds according to Rockefeller drug law remained the same. The 2004 reform act only made it possible for the first-degree drug criminal for resentence but the second degree or lesser crimes would not have the chance for resentencing.

For the first-degree drug, criminals who were willing to re sentence their judgment were only to do it to the same judge who made the first judgment not unless he or she is not available.

During the resentencing, the court would consider a number of things like the convicts institutional record, because there is no report to be ordered it is the duty of the judge to perform thorough investigations by gathering any relevant information to support the new sentence (Turner, 2009).

The issue of resentencing was not to be automatic according to the 2004 reform act, because the court may deny it or if it is to be accepted, the convict must appear before the court and the normal hearing to proceed. The convict would have an alternative sentence by the court, for him or her to accept or object.

The 2005 reform act was another step to modify the Rockefeller drug law. During this period, the issue of resentencing was open to the second-degree drug convicts. For the inmate to be considered for resentencing in this case, the court must have given him or her maximum number of years imprisonment.

The reform act of 2005 also required the convict to meet the appropriate requirements for the advantaged period under the corrections act (McLemore, 2009).

The convict is to enjoy this opportunity of resentencing only if he or she is not involved with a punishment of any other conviction such as non-drug crimes like violence, rape or theft. If this convict has been involved with issue of harassing an employee or another inmate during that time he or she was an inmate, he or she has no right to resentencing.

The 2009 reform act made general changes to all the convicts of drugs in New York State. This act of 2009 allowed for resentencing of the convicts of class B drug crimes that happened before January 13, 2005 (McLemore, 2009).

That opportunity of resentencing was open for the convicts who were serving a drug sentence of more than three years. Moreover, the convicts of level C, D or E drug or marijuana crimes would also have a chance to ask for resentencing.

The unique modifications of this drug law that came with 2009 reform acts were for instance, the imprisonment was optional for prosecutions of class B drug crimes, and also it was optional to have the say of District Attorney on several cases of D crimes.

Another crucial reform that came with 2009 drug act was the fact that the courts may redirect drug criminals both class B and E, as well as second degree drug criminals to a

Healthy facility whether for in-patient or out patient medication programs without necessarily consulting the district Attorney (Turner, 2009). A convict must first plea guilty for him or her to enroll into judicial diversion program unless the court decides otherwise.

The women benefitted a great deal from the law reforms that were done on Rockefeller drug law, as chances of requesting for resentencing were available.

Some women, who would serve many years in prison without the right to see their children, were considered in resentencing and their judgments reduced (Turner, 2009). In the past, women served for many years in prison to an extent of even forgetting their children.

Community impact of the law

The Rockefeller drug law had a very negative impact to most of people in the community especially the women from the color communities. These women and their children suffered greatly because of the sentencing structure of the Rockefeller drug law (Raphael, 2009).

The people in the community did not receive the Rockefeller drug law positively. Most of people disregarded it and considered it unjust and a failure. Although there was an epidemic of drugs in New York in 1960 and everyone was unpleased by the act, the enactment of the Rockefeller drug law in 1973 did not receive a good welcome by the citizens.

The government was in a way overreacting because of the drug use in a tough manner. The worst part of this drug law that disappointed the community was that the owners of the drugs were still free as they used the desperate poor people to supply and sell the drugs for them.

Women from the color communities faced many problems starting from sexual harassment, abuse of drugs and abandoned life (Raphael, 2009).

In additional to their problems, the money that was relied upon to boost their living standards was used by the government to cater for the prisons where these women can be reformed. Instead of being supported financially, the government continued oppressing these women by denying them their rights.

The people who possessed the drugs were not the real owners, leaving the owners untouched and safe to continue using the poor people in supplying their drugs. Through this drug law, New York City lost its electoral power, as most of its residents were convict at the upstate prisons.

The people held in prisons could not vote as the residents of New York as they appeared in the census reports as the residents of where the prisons are situated. Another major impact of this drug law to the community was through draining the community money to fund the prisons due to the increased number of drug convicts (Samaha, 2005).

For a ten-year period, ranging from 1988 to 1998 the government drained much money from the community projects and the higher education to boost the prisons by approximately $761 million; on the other hand, the government reduced the budget of the universities of New York by almost the same amount (Raphael, 2009).

Because of the fund shifts, the tuition fee increased making the public education un-affordable to most of the citizens. By the end of 1997, there was a big percentage of the young Africans Americans and Latinos that were held as drug convicts.

The number of the convicted young people was higher than the ones that graduated from the New York universities. The Rockefeller drug law resulted to racial disparity in New York City.

The majority of the drug users and sellers in New York were the white, but the African American and Latinos were the majority groups in prison for drug convictions. The whites used to abuse drugs indoor and when they wanted to sell, they used the color communities to supply for them in public (Raphael, 2009).

The police and the government authority focused much on the color communities as they considered them as the most desperate people who can easily fall into trap of selling drugs to make a living.

Most of people used to say that justice was available in New York but only to the few who could afford it due to the frustrations that people faced because of Rockefeller drug law. The cost of treatment for the inmates was too high as well as the cost for their maintenances.

Financially, it cost the government approximately $32000 annually to maintain a male inmate and approximately $64000 per year to maintain a female convict in prison (McLemore, 2009). All those inmates who were large in number were parents to approximately 85000 children, who also required some money for their foster care.

Generally, the government used a lot of money on top of doing the prison expansion to afford the maintenance of the convicts together with their children in prison, the money meant for improving the quality of people’s lives in the community.

Instead of people benefiting from the government money, that money was used to deny them their rights (Turner, 2009). The people in New York because of applications of the Rockefeller drug law realized the highest level of injustice.

Finally, people in the community concluded that the Rockefeller drug law did not apply to reduce the use and sale of drug substances as per expectations, but it concentrated in imprisoning and punishing people of color in mass quantities.

Another theme of this drug law that people realized was to reduce the voting power from some communities especially where the African American and the Latinos were staying. The color communities were not supposed to exercise their power and rights, and that is why they were imprisoned at a very high level.

Another result of Rockefeller drug law to the community was to ensure a fast expansion of prisons for reforming only a certain group of people (Samaha, 2005). This drug law was unjust as it led to draining of people’s money through high taxes for the government to gather enough money for prison expansion and other related activities.

If the money was deprived from the community for the betterment of every person in New York, that would be considerable. However, the government used the money to exercise discrimination of some communities in New York, and to make their families and generations to perish.

Its impact on children

The Rockefeller drug law did not do any justice to children. This drug law imposed a negative effects to the children both born and the unborn. Most of the women who were imprisoned were mothers and the main caretakers of their children.

The women had no other option other than loosing their children to the foster care system. In the foster care system the conditions in which these children were survive were not up to standard (Samaha, 2005).

Any child has a right to parental care, but these children were denied this right. At the foster care system, the health conditions were of poor quality that caused these children to suffer from various serious diseases.

Some children were too small, that required complete care from their mothers, but this was impossible especially due to the racial discrimination that existed in New York City. In some families, both the parents were imprisoned leaving their children without the needed parental love and care (Feldman & Gerald, 2010).

The foster care system did not have a room for the older children; their parents to earn a living by themselves at a very tender age left these children. The statistics shows that about 50% of the imprisoned parents did not have a chance to see their children during the imprisonment period.

This drug law marked the beginning of disintegration of some families, whereby the parents were detached completely from their children. Some women who were imprisoned were pregnant, and the gynecological care that was available in prison was inadequate due o the large population of women (McLemore, 2009).

Most of them suffered from healthy problems, hence loosing their newborn, and the lucky who gave birth safely, their children suffered from serious illnesses because of poor living conditions. The Rockefeller drug law did made the conditions worse than they were before.

Immigration on Rockefeller drug law

The Rockefeller drug law was to reduce the high levels of usage and sale of drugs that existed in New York, but that drug law changed to immigrants’ law of discriminating them. The biggest percentage of the people who were convict by drug use and sale were the immigrants (Turner, 2009).

The government claimed that these color communities occupied the land and space of New York illegally. Through the Rockefeller drug law, the government also aimed at eliminating these immigrants. From the beginning, they knew that the people who get direct contact with the drugs are the poor and the desperate individuals mostly from the color communities who were the immigrants in New York City.

The research showed that the target were the immigrants as they were used by the top people to trade drugs for them. The children who were suffering due to lack of proper parental care and love were the children for the immigrants, as they were the targets together with their generations.

The number of immigrants in New York City was very large and these people would have the power and the opportunity to vote for their leader of choice (Turner, 2009).

Through the way they were imprisoned in large numbers reduced their voting power as anyone was considered as the resident of where he or she was imprisoned.

Through this, the government concluded that the drug trafficking and use was exercised in New York City by the immigrants, and the best way to deal with them is to remove them completely from New York City to their homelands.

Reference List

Feldman, D., & Gerald, B. (2010). Tales from the sausage factory: Making Laws in New York State. New York: SUNY Press.

McLemore, M. (2009). Barred from treatment: punishment of drug users in New York State prisons. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Raphael, S. (2009). Do prisons make us safer?: The benefits and costs of the prison boom. Michigan: Russell Sage Foundation.

Samaha, J. (2005). Criminal Justice. New York: Cengage Learning.

Turner, J. (2009). African American History: An introduction. New York: Peter Lang.

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