Prison Time: 40 Years of Rockefeller Drug Laws

Forty years ago this month, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller launched his campaign for what came to be known as the Rockefeller drug laws

Rockefeller demanded tough prison sentences, even for low-level drug dealers and addicts. It was an idea that quickly spread, influencing state and Federal law across the U.S.

In the decades since, the nation's prison population has grown seven-fold — with more than 2 million men and women now behind bars. But in the 1960s, New York state was still known for treating drug addiction as a medical problem – not a criminal one.

But by the early seventies, however, attitudes about drugs and crime were changing fast. In 1971, President Richard Nixon launched what he called a national war on drugs, and within two years, New York state enacted severe drug laws that pushed for mandatory prison sentences of 15 years to life even for those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

North Country Public Radio explores the past four decades under the Rockefeller drug laws with their year-long series Prison Time.