NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
June 2, 2003

Assembly Passes Comprehensive Drug Law Reform Legislation

Issue Remains 'Top Priority' For Assembly Majority

Speaker Sheldon Silver and key Assemblymembers today announced passage in the house of legislation providing comprehensive and historic reform of the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws.

"Now is the time for action - no more excuses and no more false promises to the dedicated advocates and family members who have sought real Rockefeller Drug Law reform over the years. It is simply wrong to keep these individuals and those serving prison terms under these overly-harsh laws, waiting indefinitely while the political gamesmanship continues," said Silver.

According to Silver, the Assembly's Drug Law Reform, Drug Treatment and Crime Reduction legislation (A.7078) would alter significantly the way the state addresses drug-related crime.

"Our bill seeks to institute balanced and fundamental changes in the law," said Silver. "We all recognize that serious drug dealers, violent offenders and those who prey on our children must face serious consequences. But we also have seen how the lives of individuals, who are drawn into this desperate world as a result of addiction, and their families have been made to suffer by a system that fails to consider circumstances and overall public safety."

Silver also argued that potential savings to the state through the effective use of state resources was another important consideration is seeking real reform. Projected savings under the Assembly plan would amount to more than $160 million a year.

"Year after year, the Assembly has taken the lead in seeking real reforms to the state's broken, ineffective and outdated Rockefeller Drug Laws," said Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, chair of the Corrections Committee and sponsor of the bill. "The issue remains a priority for us, and although session is drawing to a close, this year we simply must achieve changes that will result in more enlightened and effective policies to deal with our state's serious drug problems. Time is running out and we must act now."

"The Assembly Majority recognizes that in order to break the cycle of crime, we must break the cycle of recidivism, and the best way to achieve that is through effective and mandatory treatment," said Assemblyman Joe Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee. "At the same time, we must also take out major drug traffickers, crack down on drug dealers who prey on our children, increase penalties for those who mix drugs and guns, improve the delivery of drug-treatment services in the state's correctional facilities and provide the resources to make drug-law reform work."

"This comprehensive legislation is long overdue," said Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, chair of the Judiciary Committee. "With the establishment of drug courts under this legislation, we are moving toward dealing with the underlying problems of drug offenders - giving them the opportunity to get treatment and reduce recidivism in New York."

"Our goal should be for as many people as possible to be productive taxpayers and citizens. That is why the time to act on real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is now. Treatment for substance abuse will make a difference in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and their families and save the state millions of dollars," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, chair of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee.

"Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted in locking up individuals with drug-abuse problems rather than offering them needed drug-treatment or harm-reduction services. The Assembly proposal clearly emphasizes the belief that rehabilitation is preferable to incarceration. This proposal is fair, effective and cost-efficient," said Assemblyman Peter Rivera, chair of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

"The Rockefeller Drug Laws have not helped to resolve the problem of drug use in this state. In fact they have hurt families across New York. Everyone agrees that these archaic laws must be reformed, and now is the time to do it," said Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, chair the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

Plan Recognizes Sentencing Non-Violent Drug Offenders to Mandatory Drug Treatment as Best Way to Reduce Drug-Related Crime

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 Corporation 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, prosecutors in all cases would get the first chance at deciding whether low-level, non-violent drug offenders would be diverted from prison to drug- treatment programs. Only after this initial prosecutorial determination had been made would the judge be empowered to make a decision on treatment.

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 subject 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 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.

The Assembly's sentencing changes would:

  • Increase possession thresholds required to meet Class A-I and A-II felony sentences from four to eight ounces and two to four ounces, respectively. This change would not be applicable to major drug traffickers;
  • Increase penalties for major drug traffickers from 15-to-25 years to life to 15-to-30 years to life;
  • Increase the sentences for adult offenders who sell or attempt to sell drugs over the Internet;
  • Replace current indeterminate life sentences for Class A-1 and Class A-II felonies with determinate sentences, providing additional discretion to judges. Current prison inmates could have their sentences adjusted to reflect the new sentencing structure provided by the bill; and
  • Allow Class A-I convicted felons with no violent felony conviction to be sentenced alternatively, with the consent of the prosecutor, as Class B felony offenders.
For certain non-violent Class B felony offenders, the Assembly plan would reduce the minimum sentencing requirements but would keep maximum sentences unchanged at 25 years.

Providing Tougher Sentences for More Dangerous Offenders

The Assembly plan not only increases sentences for major drug traffickers and adult offenders peddling drugs to our children from 15 to 25 years, but it also combats the deadly connection between drugs and firearms.

The proposal would impose a mandatory 5-year determinate sentence upon offenders who carried a loaded handgun while selling or attempting to sell drugs.

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 State Court of Appeals 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.

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 and juvenile offenders.

An important goal of the Assembly plan is to make the Willard drug-treatment campus 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 year-long treatment program following release from the Willard facility.

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.

New York State Assembly
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