Members of the Community: Life Experiences of Drug Offenders Incarcerated in New York

Rachel Porter, CUNY/Physicians for Human Rights

The paper describes research conducted by Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy organization in coordination with the Fortune Society, a direct-service organization for offenders and ex-offenders based in New York. The findings are from 50 qualitative interviews conducted with former inmates incarcerated in state prison under New York State's Rockefeller drug laws. The New York laws mandate minimum sentences for drug offences based on weight of drugs involved and couple with second felony offender provisions to make sentences for drug-related offences among the highest in the country. The paper discusses respondent life experiences prior to incarceration including narrative accounts of entry into drug use and criminal activity. The paper also discusses prison experiences and respondent perception of the impact of incarceration. Finally, the paper presents reentry narratives including circumstances related to housing, employment, drug treatment and recovery and parole responsibilities. Findings are dontextualized in current debate about the efficacy and impact of the Rockefeller laws.

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Updated 05/20/2006