Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lockdown, USA

Some drug war policies are more destructive than others. A prime example are the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York. Enacted in 1973, these laws created mandatory minimum sentencing for the possession and sale of even small amounts of drugs.

Think about this. Mandatory minimums remove a judge's discretion to hand out appropriate sentences. This is a system that gives prosecutors more power than judges - and that is a dangerous and backwards policy. A judge has to give the mandatory minimum sentence regardless of the case's circumstances. You can lower your sentence by bargaining with the prosecution.

Don't have any information? That's too bad. The only way to lower your sentence under these laws is if you can give up names of others. What ends up happening is those that are actually involved in a form of "high level" drug dealing, are able to reduce their sentences, while first time offenders, who have no connections and no names to drop, are given lengthy sentences. For this reason, New York's prisons are overflowing with non-violent drug offenders. In fact, 91% of those incarcerated for drug offenses in New York state are black and latino.

Lockdown, USA is a documentary exposing the harsh reality of a failed "War on Drugs" and the counterproductive and inhumane Rockefeller laws. It explores the lives that have been shattered and the costs, both human and monetary, of these laws. The story of Darrel Best and his family is covered:
In the fall of 2001, Darrell Best was convicted of possession of cocaine. Darrell had been doing handy work at his uncle’s house and signed for a Fed-Ex that was addressed to a neighbor. The package contained a pound of cocaine. The District Attorney offered Darrell Best a one-year plea bargain, if he admitted guilt. Darrell refused to take the plea, insisting on his innocence and claiming he wanted to set an example of integrity and honesty for his children. The Judge apologized as he read Darrell Best his sentence, 15 years to life; the minimum sentence he could give Darrell under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Catch Lockdown, USA on IFC starting May 5th, on iTunes May 6th, and on DVD February 2009. The film follows Russel Simmons campaign to raise awareness on this issue and features artists such as P Diddy, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and Tim Robbins.

Check this film out. SSDP chapters around the country should consider hosting screenings to help support the film and spread the message.

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