I have a new piece up at The American Prospect dealing with the expected reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which mandate harsh penalties for even low-level drug offenses. Just to give an idea of the impact, according to a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, 9 our of ten people convicted of drug offenses in New York State are black and Latino, and 7 out of ten of those convicted in New York City come from the same seven neighborhoods: Lower East Side, the South Bronx, Harlem, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and South Jamaica.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 1992, Terrance Stevens was sentenced for 15 years to life under New York state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. Stevens was traveling on a Greyhound Bus to Buffalo New York City to visit relatives. He claims he was unaware that the friend he was traveling with was carrying 5 ounces of cocaine. Prosecutors offered him a plea bargain that would have given Stevens probation, but Stevens didn’t have any information to offer.

“The judge knew I didn’t deserve a 15-year sentence, but he was handcuffed,” Stevens says. “According to the statute, he had to sentence me to 15 years to life.”

Stevens’ bid in prison was particularly difficult because he has muscular dystrophy, leaving him mostly paralyzed from the neck down. New York’s prison facilities weren’t prepared to address all of his medical needs.

“When someone who can’t even wipe their own behind is sentenced for 15 years for a nonviolent drug offense,” Stevens says, “that’s an indication something is wrong with our criminal-justice system.” Stevens served 10 years of his sentence, which was commuted in 2001 after then-Gov. George Pataki granted clemency to several individuals imprisoned under the Rockefeller laws.

Stevens has since dedicated his life to helping those most affected by New York’s harsh drug laws. He formed an organization called In Arms Reach, which tutors children who have incarcerated parents and pays for them to visit their parents, who are often locked up in upstate prisons. Last Friday, however, New York state legislators struck a deal to reform the Rockefeller laws that might make stories like Stevens’ a thing of the past. New York lawmakers are scheduled to adopt the budget, which contains the changes, later today.

Read the whole thing here.

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