ASSEMBLY UNVEILS DRUG LAW REFORM,
DRUG TREATMENT AND CRIME REDUCTION PLAN
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and key legislators today unveiled a comprehensive drug law reform initiative aimed at reducing drug-related crime by ordering non-violent drug offenders to mandatory drug-treatment programs, providing judges with greater sentencing discretion and keeping major drug traffickers behind bars longer.
"Our plan's emphasis on treatment is designed to break the cycle of recidivism," said Silver. "It balances the need to address the core problem of drug addiction with efforts that combat major drug traffickers and crack down on drug dealers who prey on our children."
"When the governor unveiled his proposal to reform the existing drug laws, it certainly did not go far enough in addressing our crime or drug problem," said Assembly Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol. "The proposal being presented by the Assembly illustrates our willingness to take an extra step to make certain that sentences for non-violent offenders are appropriate and that those individuals in need will receive treatment."
"We returned discretion to the judges in a significant way, in contrast to what's been proposed by the governor," said Assembly Corrections Committee Chair Jeffrion Aubry.
"It is time to start treating drug addiction like the health care crisis it is rather than simply a matter of criminal justice. Drug law reform should create millions of dollars in savings from the criminal justice system. This creates a tremendous opportunity to reinvest these savings into treatment and prevention. The Assembly plan seizes this opportunity to save lives, prevent crime and restore hope by investing in programs to help thousands of New Yorkers overcome addiction and become productive members of society," said Assembly Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee Chair Sam Hoyt.
Plan Recognizes Sentencing Non-Violent Drug Offenders to Mandatory
The cornerstone of the Assembly plan is an effort to reduce New York's crime rate by ensuring that non-violent offenders complete effective drug treatment.
"Not only will expanded drug treatment save millions of taxpayer dollars and help assure that addicted offenders turn their lives around, it will also reduce crime," said Silver, who cited a 1997 RAND study concluding that treatment is the most effective tool in the fight against drug abuse. The study found treatment 15 times more effective in reducing serious crime committed by drug offenders than mandatory minimum sentences.
Silver also pointed to a National Institute on Drug Abuse analysis showing that drug treatment programs, on the whole, are successful in reducing levels of drug abuse and crime among participants and in increasing their ability to find and hold a job.
Under the Assembly plan, judges would be given discretion to divert Class "B," "C," "D," and "E" felony drug offenders whose non-violent crimes resulted from drug abuse to mandatory drug treatment programs as a potential alternative to a state prison term.
Drug treatment would generally have a minimum one-year term and include time in a residential drug treatment facility. Those who do not successfully complete treatment would face a felony conviction, which, for repeat offenders, would mean a mandatory state prison sentence. Diversion would not be available for offenders who committed violent felonies or sold or attempted to sell drugs to minors.
Each drug-treatment plan would have to include a drug-testing component. Offenders would generally be sentenced to probation while receiving drug treatment.
A limited pool of current inmates could petition the sentencing court for early entry into a drug-treatment program operated by the state Department of Correctional Services (DOCS).
Judges would also be given two additional sentencing options for non-violent offenders. Judges would be given additional discretion to order non-violent offenders to DOCS' Willard drug treatment campus in Seneca County. Judges would also be given the authority to sentence eligible drug offenders directly to the DOCS-run shock incarceration program. Both options would have to include a drug treatment component and provide continuing drug treatment upon release from prison.
Ensuring the Penalty Fits the Crime
Another important component of the Assembly's proposal would give judges greater discretion to impose appropriate sentences designed to fit the facts and circumstances of each drug-related crime.
Providing Tougher Sentences for More Dangerous Offenders
The Assembly plan not only increases sentences for major drug traffickers and adult offenders attempting to sell drugs to our children, but also combats the deadly connection between drugs and firearms.
The proposal would create a process which could lead to a ban on the sale of "Saturday Night Special" handguns and enhances prosecution for illegal gun traffickers who sell large amounts of firearms to drug gangs and other drug enterprises. The plan would also ban violent felons from possessing guns.
Reforming the Justice System's Approach to Drug Treatment
Drug-treatment programs operated in prisons and in conjunction with the courts, the state Division of Parole and probation departments would be reformed and enhanced under the Assembly plan.
The Assembly approach recognizes that enacting and fully funding Chief Judge Judith Kaye's initiative to expand drug courts to every county in the state during the next three years is key to providing necessary treatment reforms. The courts would provide the needed judicial monitoring and infrastructure to assure strict compliance with the treatment requirement and are supported by Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein.
Every inmate on probation, on parole or in a state correctional facility with a documented drug- or alcohol-abuse problem would be required to undergo a drug- or alcohol-treatment program lasting at least one year. Mandatory tests for drug abuse are required.
Mandatory drug- or alcohol-treatment would also be required for appropriate juvenile delinquents or juvenile offenders.
An important goal of the Assembly plan is to make the DOCS Willard drug-treatment campus in Seneca County a more effective treatment and crime-reducing tool.
Under the plan, judges would be given the discretion to sentence statutorily eligible offenders to the Willard program and participation would be expanded to include non-violent Class "B" and "C" drug offenders.
In addition, all Willard graduates would be required to undergo an additional yearlong treatment program following release from the campus.
Because transitional services are critical to reducing recidivism, the Assembly plan incorporates the establishment of such programs as has been proposed for the Queensborough Correctional Facility, along with five additional facilities, during the next two years.
Another key component of the Assembly's plan strengthens post-release supervision by hiring additional parole officers to supervise released drug offenders.
Providing the Resources to Make Drug Law Reform Work
The Assembly backs up its proposal to expand judicial discretion and reform the drug-treatment system with new resources and a long-term plan to use cost savings from the prison system for drug-abuse prevention and treatment programs.
Under the plan, prison savings would be reinvested in treatment and prevention efforts to reduce crime. It has been estimated that reductions in the state's prison population just in the past year will result in savings of roughly $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year. When fully implemented, the Assembly plan would save the state more than $160 million annually.
The Assembly plan would direct the state comptroller to quantify the amount of money the state saves by diverting eligible drug offenders from the more costly prison system. The amount of money saved would be paid into a new "Crime Reduction Fund."
This money would be used to fund drug-treatment programs, school-based drug-abuse prevention education and related counseling, treatment initiatives and crime victims' assistance programs.
Furthermore, under the plan, 2,000 new residential drug treatment slots would be created for both criminal offenders and for substance abusers who have not yet come into contact with the justice system.
While some of the cost savings would be used to provide more effective drug-treatment programs, funds would also be used to prevent the state's children from using drugs in the first place.