Background on New York's Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws

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Enacted in 1973 under then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated extremely harsh prison terms for possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Although intended to target “kingpins,” most people incarcerated under the laws were convicted of low-level, nonviolent, first-time offenses. The laws marked an unprecedented shift towards addressing drug use and abuse through the criminal justice system instead of through the medical and public health systems.

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