Paterson Signs Rockefeller Drug Law Overhaul

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Governor Paterson has signed a bill that drastically overhauls the state's nearly 50-year-old Rockefeller drug laws. WNYC's Elaine Rivera reports.

REPORTER: Paterson signed the bill at a Queens drug treatment center. In addition to expanding drug courts and drug treatment, the law gives judges more sentencing discretion, and provides harsher penalties for kingpins and adults who sell drugs to children. Paterson says the reforms are long overdue.

PATERSON: This today celebrates work for over two generations and four decades to try to change a concept that maybe at the time seemed reasonable but just did not work.

REPORTER: The laws were implemented in 1973 by then Governor Nelson Rockefeller to combat a heroin epidemic. It required judges to follow strict mandatory sentencing guidelines that meted out long sentences for even first-time non-violent drug offenders. Nearly 200,000 people have been incarcerated under the laws - 90 percent of them black and Latino.

For WNYC, I'm Elaine Rivera.