Sentencing: New York Assembly Passes New Rockefeller Law Reforms

The continuing effort to undo New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws took another step forward Wednesday as the state Assembly passed a bill that would expand the availability of drug treatment and give judges greater discretion in sentencing. The push comes three years after the legislature enacted modest initial reforms, but since then only 177 of the state's 15,000 drug prisoners have won sentence reductions.

The new bill would:

  • Increase judges' discretion and allow some people convicted of first- and second-time drug offenses to receive treatment and probation instead of prison terms.
  • Set up drug courts in every county, to make efforts to get drug offenders into treatment programs.
  • Raise the weight thresholds for certain drug offenses so that the possible sentence times are reduced.
  • Create or expand "second chance" programs for low-level drug defendants, such as the Court Approved Drug Abuse Treatment program, in which offenders' cases can be dismissed or reduced to misdemeanors upon successful completion of treatment.
  • Create enhanced penalties for violent drug dealers and people who sell drugs to children.

"The modest reform to the Rockefeller Drug Laws enacted in 2004 and the extension in 2005 to provide for the re-sentencing of some class A-II offenders was a beginning, but unfortunately, despite pledges made by then Gov. George Pataki and the Senate to make additional changes, no further action was taken. The Assembly's repeated passage of significant drug law reform legislation for years went unnoticed by the former executive and the other house," said Speaker Sheldon Silver as the vote neared.

"This bill provides reforms that are long overdue," he continued. "It would expand the availability of drug treatment programs, allow judges to order non-violent, lower-level offenders into mandatory treatment for addiction and substance abuse and assure that prisons are most often used for serious drug offenders, offenders with violent histories and those who cannot or will not succeed in drug abuse treatment. We are confident that with the help of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Assembly's long-standing commitment to make the state's drug laws smarter, fairer and more effective will become a reality," added Silver.

"The opposition will say we are soft on crime," said Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Queens) who chairs the Assembly Committee on Correction and who authored the bill. "But we understand the revolving door of criminal justice and we want to shut that door."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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