WOLCOTT | At Thursday's rally to prevent the closure of Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County, state Sen. Michael Nozzolio had more than a few choice words for downstate Democrats and others who supported so-called Rockefeller Drug Law reforms more than four years ago.
The reforms, he said, haven't made our communities safer and are a main reason why the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is planning to close Butler and three other facilities in New York.
"There is some history that you need to know because the people that created decisions in the past are making these same decisions today," Nozzolio, R-Fayette, said Thursday night at the rally organized by the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. "Let me take you back four years to 2009. 2009 was a year that, for the first time in our state's history, the governor, the Senate leader and the Assembly leader were all from New York City. You might not pay much attention to that, but it's affecting your life right now."
Nozzolio continued: "It's affecting your life now because the decision was made then to change the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws. Now those drug laws were, some said, draconian. Some say no one really could explain what their scope was. What they did was change the entire scope of those who were criminalized for the use and sale of drugs. A lot of the do-gooder groups said this was the greatest thing in the world. Unless you were the victim of a crime committed by one of those who were committing crimes and also using drugs. For instance, committing a robbery, but you're a druggy. That was OK under this new law. Committing other crimes, some very violent, some very abusive, had nothing to do with the drug itself. The illegal drug, I should add. But because of the drug, you basically had a cloak placed over that criminality."
The changes Nozzolio is referring to were made in early 2009. While tougher penalties were established for drug dealers, mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses were eliminated. Democrats, including then-Gov. David Paterson, supported reforming the state's drug laws. Certain groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised passage of the reforms. But Republicans, including Nozzolio, were opposed to the changes.
Nozzolio said he spoke out against the reforms four years ago. He remembered saying, "This isn't drug law reform. This is distributing get out of jail free cards."
"And that's exactly what happened and regardless of the type of crime," Nozzolio said Thursday. "So, those who have committed violent crimes but also had a drug-related offense were given leniency because of the drug. But they should have been incarcerated because of the violent criminality. We had a double homicide in Geneva and we had a homicide in Syracuse within a year after these so-called reforms were established. What happened was the inmates were let out early.
"Why am I saying this now? I want you all to know that policies do matter, that policies do have consequences. Some see those consequences. Some leaders don't. I did and I railed upon the governor, the lieutenant governor, the then-attorney general who is now governor (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) to not allow this to happen. One of the senators who voted for this — actually was the sponsor of the law — is now the attorney general of the state of New York (Attorney General Eric Schneiderman). I want you all to know that this is what happens and that's why we're here. Because we can't argue with the number in the sense that populations have declined, but that's the reason. The question is, are our streets any safer as a result? Absolutely not."
As for the plan to close the prison, Nozzolio said he will continue to support local efforts to prevent the facility's closure. He has joined with Assemblyman Robert Oaks, R-Macedon, to ask DOCCS to reconsider their decision.
DOCCS announced the prison closure plan in July. They cited a few factors for the decision, including declining inmate populations and a large decrease in the number of drug offenders.
Along with Butler Correctional Facility, DOCCS wants to close Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County, Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County and Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County.
If DOCCS follows through on the prison closure plan, the facilities will be shut down in July 2014.