The United States puts more people behind bars than any other country, five times as many per capita compared with Britain or Spain.
It wasn't always like this. Half a century ago, relatively few people were locked up, and those inmates generally served short sentences. But 40 years ago, New York passed strict sentencing guidelines known as the "Rockefeller drug laws" — after their champion, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller — that put even low-level criminals behind bars for decades.
Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 11:11 am
Credit Natasha Haverty
There are roughly half a million people behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes in America. But no one really knows how many people have been sentenced to long prison bids since the laws known as Rockefeller drug laws first passed 40 years ago.
What's clear is that tough sentencing laws, even for low-level drug dealers and addicts, shaped a generation of young men, especially black and Hispanic men.
A debate is brewing at the State Capitol around a proposed change in drug user penalties. Colorado’s Meth Task Force announced today opposition to a measure that would make possession of small amounts of illegal drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.