I heard this on NPR the other week while driving to work (click link below for full article). It is an interview with a man who was sentenced to 15 years in 1976 for dealing cocaine. The Rockefeller law was designed to capture drug-dealing kingpins, not first time offenders such as Prendes who was struggling to pay his rent. Both Prendes and his sister talk about the impact the 15 year sentence had, and continues to have, on their family and their life.
An excerpt from the story:
Prendes was a first-time offender, and no one saw him as a kingpin drug dealer. But under the Rockefeller law, he spent the next 15 years in maximum security prison with no chance for parole.
“I don’t know if people realize that with a sentence like that, it takes away not only from the person — it takes away from the family,” says Mercedes Prendes Estrada, Prendes’ sister, through tears.
She’s in her 50s now, but was a teenager when Prendes went away to prison. She says their mother spent years and all the family’s money trying to help him.
“It really — dismantled [us],” Mercedes says. “It was like a bomb. It had a profound effect that you don’t come back from.”
King was the Prosecuting District Attorney in Prendes case. Read below to see what he thinks about the laws…hindsight.
“King, who put Prendes behind bars, is part of a growing movement of onetime supporters of mandatory prison sentences who now say they have doubts about their effectiveness and their fairness.”
King goes on to say:
“I have a son who’s about to turn 30. And so we were talking about this case and he was enraged by the sentence. He said, ‘That’s ridiculous,” King says. “And I think by today’s standards, I think most people would look at this — and I guess I would look at it — and say, that sentence was disproportionate.”
A NYTimes article on the Rockefeller drug laws.