NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 26, 2004

Several states are reforming their harsh and unpopular drug laws, opting for shorter sentences and more treatment programs -- with the exception of New York, where the "Rockefeller" laws are the strictest in the nation.

Former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and Mitchell Rosenthal of the Phoenix House drug rehabilitation center argue that treatment is more effective and cheaper than imprisonment. They have put forth recommendations to reform New York's draconian drug laws. Among their ideas:

  • Reduce prison sentences for drug offenders, but keep them long enough to provide an incentive for users to opt for treatment, and provide the treatment option for as many nonviolent offenders as possible.
  • Mandate in-prison treatment for those who are repeat offenders or are not ideal candidates for community-based treatment.
  • Require at least one year of residential treatment and an additional six months of outpatient treatment.
  • Enact swift and automatic penalties for those who fail to follow treatment regimens.

Currently, the United States prison population now stands at 2 million, up from 200,000 thirty years ago, due in part to drug law offenders serving more time in prison.

Source: Barry R. McCaffrey and Mitchell S. Rosenthal, "End the Rockefeller Laws," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2004.


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