Synopsis by Mark Deming
In 1972, New York State established what became known as "The Rockefeller Drug Laws," the strictest legislation against drug trafficking passed by any state in the union. While many felt the laws were unnecessarily harsh, in 1982 Ronald Reagan cited the Rockefeller Laws as a model to be followed in his "War on Drugs" campaign, and since then 48 states passed similar laws. However, thanks to the Rockefeller Laws, nonviolent drug offenders now frequently serve longer sentences than those convicted of rape, armed robbery, arson, or other crimes that threaten the lives and safety of others. In 2001, Darrell Best was doing some repair work at his uncle's house when he signed for a Federal Express package for the neighbor next door who was away; unknown to Best or the FedEx driver, the package contained a pound of cocaine, and Best was eventually sentenced to 15 years behind bars (the minimum sentence under the Rockefeller Laws) after he refused to plea bargain the case. Now Wanda Best, his wife, raises their three children alone as he serves time for a crime in which he had only an unwitting involvement. Since then, hip-hop mogul and activist Russell Simmons has launched a media campaign to repeal the Rockefeller Laws in favor of more humane legislation that focuses on treatment rather than punishment. Lockdown, U.S.A. is a documentary which examines the history of the Rockefeller Laws, the Darrell Best case, and Simmons' battle to raise awareness about the destructive impact of these laws. Lockdown, U.S.A. received its world premiere at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.