The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Reform The Rockefeller Drug Laws Now!

Eleanor Young Clinic, 134 Franklin Street, Albany, NY
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let me thank Father Young for the tour that he gave us today, and let me thank all of his staff for taking the time to share their expertise with us.

For years, you have heard me and my Assembly Majority colleagues - most notably Assembly Members Jeff Aubry, Joe Lentol and Helene Weinstein - make the case for reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

This morning, we heard from Father Peter Young, a man who has dedicated his life to treating drug users and the addicted; a man who has helped countless men and women recover, helped them return to their families and communities, and live healthier, more productive, more fulfilling lives.

You have heard from the program directors here at the Eleanor Young Clinic. You have heard from people who are going through the difficult process of overcoming their addictions.

What more needs to be said? It is clear from what you heard, from what you observed, from all that we have seen and from all that we know, that drug treatment works!

Father Young's "three-legged stool," which he described - housing, employment and treatment - works!

There are now 90 Peter Young residential facilities stretching from Buffalo to Brooklyn and into the Adirondacks. So, not only is drug treatment effective, there is a real desire, a real and substantial need throughout our State, for treatment programs that can break the shackles of addiction.

For too long, this state has considered drug policy almost solely a criminal matter and not as the public health crisis that it is and has been.

Now, it is up to the leaders of this state to do the smart thing, the humane thing, and break New York's addiction to mandatory prison sentences for non-violent offenders.

This year, 2009, I believe, we will finally enact real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and begin to move New York State toward a more effective and less costly drug policy.

The Assembly Majority will move to pass our drug law reform legislation next week. We will work with the Governor and with our colleagues in the Senate to achieve certain principles in that reform.

We will restore judicial discretion. You have heard here today, how many judges have said, "I wish I could send this particular defendant to a program. That is what they need." How many more judges have said that and been unable to do it under the existing law?

Let me be very clear about our intentions. We support drug law reform, but:

There will be no tolerance of criminals at this level of offense.

Let me close with a few observations.

There is no demonstrable correlation between the violent crime rate and minimum mandatory prison terms for drug offenders.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws have not stopped drug abuse and the much larger, so-called "war on drugs," has failed.

Look no further than the incidents of overdose, the lives that have been lost, the potential that has been wasted, the prison cells are filled with non-violent drug offenders, the desperate families striving to save loved ones from a one-way ticket to prison.

Think of the resources that have been expended fighting this war; money that could have been invested in education, rehabilitation, job training, investments that could have, would have and should have saved countless lives.

What a failure! What a waste!

In 2004, we achieved limited reforms in the drug laws; reforms that have already saved this state nearly 100 million dollars.

With more than 13,000 drug offenders in prison right now, imagine the lives we could change and the money we could save by providing more effective, less costly treatment options, especially in these difficult economic times.

Father Young can tell you.

Now we are telling you: DRUG TREATMENT WORKS!

You have seen examples of the people who have been positively effected by the work of Father Young and his programs.

You have to come away with the conclusion that it is time to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws, now!