Behind penalty reduction, a PR triumph

NEW YORK: When Gov. George Pataki signed a law last week reducing New York's unusually harsh penalties for drug offenders, he vindicated years of grassroots advocacy work by Jody Miller.

NEW YORK: When Gov. George Pataki signed a law last week reducing New York's unusually harsh penalties for drug offenders, he vindicated years of grassroots advocacy work by Jody Miller.

Miller is the president and CEO of JLM PR, which has been trying for more than three years to help bring about changes in the notorious 30-year-old Rockefeller drug laws, which mandate lengthy sentences, even for first-time, nonviolent drug possession.

In 2001, JLM began handling promotions and media relations for the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a group founded by music mogul Russell Simmons to tout the political concerns of the hip-hop community. Simmons' lobbying work and a public-awareness effort culminated in the recent reductions in the drug penalties.

"[Simmons'] involvement, the involvement of the celebrity artists he brought in, and the attention that that drew to the cause ... helped move [the legislation] forward," Miller said.

Since 2001, JLM has helped organize and publicize 25 hip-hop summits designed to sharpen the political goals of hip-hop artists and their fans. They have successfully secured more money for New York City public schools and registered nearly 1 million new voters, said Miller.

As for Pataki's modest reforms, Miller is happy - for now.

"It's not everything that we wanted," she said. "At the same time, it's a start."

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