New York Drug Sentences
Contravene International Law
Human Rights Watch, May 1997
State laws in New York mandate such lengthy prison terms for
lesser drug offences that minor non-violent drug offenders are
subject to the same sentences given to some murderers and rapists.
In its first-ever report on the human rights impact of drug
sentences for low-level offenders anywhere in the United States,
Cruel and Usual: Disproportionate Sentences for New York Drug
Offenders , HRW argues that New York's drug sentences violate
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment and Punishment.
International human rights principles require a measure of proportionality
between an individual's crime and the punishment imposed.
Severe sentences, therefore, should be reserved for serious
criminals, those who are directly responsible for great harm,
not minor drug offenders; HRW charges that the harsh sentences
impose a great deal of human suffering without any appreciable
effect on drug trafficking. The impact of the grossly disproportionate
sentencing is felt primarily in communities of color, as almost
95 percent of the ten thousand people a year who go to prison
in New York state on drug charges are black or Hispanic.
The most egregious effects of the drug laws are the classification
of possession or sale of relatively small amounts of controlled
substances as felonies of equal gravity as murder and rape, and
drug laws that do not permit judges to exercise their traditional
function of ensuring just sentences or imposing effective, safe
and fair alternative or intermediate sanctions.
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