NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
June 8, 2005


Assembly To Take Up Further Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms

Bill Expanding Drug Treatment And Judicial Discretion
Fulfills Assembly's Commitment To Build On Last Year's Successes

Saying Rockefeller Drug Law reform "is not done," Speaker Sheldon Silver, Correction Committee Chair Jeffrion Aubry and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol today announced that the Assembly is expected to take up legislation this afternoon that will continue its efforts to overhaul the state's drug laws in a "comprehensive, smart and effective manner."

Silver, Aubry and Lentol made the announcement at a Capitol news conference, at which they were joined by key Assembly committee chairs, including Assembly Judiciary Chair Helene Weinstein and Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz. Also participating was David Soares, whose successful campaign last year for Albany County district attorney included a call for further drug law reform and other reform advocates.

According to Silver, the Assembly legislation (A.8098) seeks to "reduce drug-related crime by addressing the substance abuse that often lies at the core of criminal behavior." The bill would accomplish this goal by sentencing certain drug offenders to mandatory treatment and expanding judicial discretion.

Silver and Aubry noted that while an important first step was made in 2004 to moderate the harshest sentences under the state's drug laws, more needs to be done.

"Prior to last year's success, the Assembly had passed legislation that was far more extensive than the compromise agreement we reached with the Senate and the governor. This bill provides for the kind of judicial and correctional reforms the Assembly has been seeking for years and that are at the heart of any effort to curb addiction and drug-related crimes," said Silver. "At the same time, we are seeking to increase penalties for drug kingpins, dealers who prey on children and individuals who sell drugs while carrying a loaded weapon."

"Last year, we pledged not to give up our fight for greater reform of New York State's ineffective and imprudent drug laws. Even as last year's compromise bill was signed into law, the governor and Senate Majority Leader acknowledged that we had achieved only a first step," said Aubry. "This bill fulfills our commitment by providing for a more sensible, comprehensive and cost-effective approach for dealing with low-level drug offenders and addicts."

"We in the Assembly Majority recognize that the best way to break the cycle of recidivism is through effective and mandatory treatment," said Lentol. "This bill achieves that goal, while cracking down on major drug traffickers, especially those who prey on our children. In addition, we are seeking to increase penalties for those who mix drugs and guns and improve the delivery of drug-treatment services in the state's correctional facilities."

"Judicial discretion is an essential component to real drug law reform," said Weinstein. "Without question, society will be best served by allowing judges to move certain offenders to drug treatment. Indeed, with judicial discretion and the establishment of drug courts we are moving toward dealing with the underlying problems of many drug offenders - giving them the opportunity to get treatment and potentially reducing recidivism in New York."

"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. "This bill will make a real difference in the lives of those whose criminal activities are driven by their addiction and ultimately lead to more productive taxpayers and citizens."

"This proposal is fair, effective and cost-efficient," said Assemblyman Peter Rivera, chair of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. "By expanding needed drug-treatment options, we are placing a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and, in the long run, this bill will result in significant financial savings for New York State."

"Having finally achieved some success in tempering the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws last year, we are now faced with the challenge of continuing this important work. However, despite our efforts, families continue to suffer and offenders are not receiving treatment that will help them turn their lives around. More needs to be done," said Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, chair the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

"It has been well established that the addictive purchase and use of illegal drugs is both a crime and a mental illness," said Soares. "For the past thirty years we have attempted to address drug abuse exclusively as a crime. This policy has been wasteful, unjust and ineffective. The proposed legislation mandates a combination of treatment and/or criminal sanctions for a broad range of non-violent low-level drug law offenders. By establishing treatment as an option for offenders throughout the state, this legislation will result in a more effective, more efficient, more just and more humane criminal justice system for all New Yorkers. At the same time, by increasing the sentences for major drug dealers and for those in possession of a firearm while selling or attempting to sell controlled substances, this legislation provides prosecutors with a powerful new tool to target the gangsters and organized criminals who make their living selling drugs.

"I promised the citizens of Albany County a "tough and smart" approach to crime. This legislation is both "tough and smart," continued Soares.

"We applaud the Assembly today for taking the next step toward real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws," said Michael Blain, director of public policy with the Drug Policy Alliance. "We encourage and advise the Senate Republicans to keep their word and follow suit, because New Yorkers demand nothing less than real reform."

"The Legal Action Center is pleased to support A.8098, the Assembly Majority's comprehensive proposal to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws by giving judges discretion to sentence people who are addicted and convicted of low-level offenses to treatment instead of prison when appropriate, dedicating additional funds to drug and alcohol treatment, and making other necessary changes," said Anita R. Marton, Vice President of the Legal Action Center. "Last year Governor Pataki, Majority Leader Bruno and Speaker Silver came together in the spirit of bi-partisanship to begin reform of New York State's overly harsh and counter-productive drug laws. We thank the Assembly Majority for proposing legislation that will help thousand of New Yorkers and make this state a much safer place to live. We urge New York to enact this critically important bill."

Mandating Drug Treatment For Certain Eligible Defendants

The cornerstone of the Assembly plan is an effort to reduce crime rates by ensuring that non-violent offenders complete effective drug treatment.

Under the Assembly plan, prosecutors would get the first chance at deciding whether low-level, non-violent drug offenders would be diverted from prison to drug-treatment programs through the new "Court Approved Drug Abuse Treatment Program." Only after this initial prosecutorial determination had been made would the judge be empowered to make a decision on treatment under the program.

Drug treatment under the new initiative 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.

Judges would be given additional discretion to order non-violent offenders to DOCS' Willard drug-treatment facility 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. In addition, judges would be given the discretion to sentence additional non-violent offenders who possessed small quantities of narcotics to drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

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 certain 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 possession thresholds for lower level drug possession crimes; and
  • Increase penalties for major drug traffickers from 15-to-25 years to life to 15-to-30 years to life.

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 five-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 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 is key to providing necessary treatment reforms. These drug courts would provide the needed judicial monitoring and infrastructure to assure strict compliance with treatment requirements.

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- abuse 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 facility, which is jointly run by the state Department of Correctional Services and Division of Parole, 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. Also, 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 statutorily establishes such programs.

Another key component of the Assembly's plan strengthens post-release supervision by reducing offender/parole officer caseloads for certain released drug offenders.

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Click here to view The Remarks of Speaker Sheldon Silver - Rockefeller Drug Law Press Conference