N.Y. Revises Rockefeller Drug Laws to Emphasize Treatment

NEW YORK — The state assembly has revised the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which established mandatory-minimum prison sentences, to expand drug treatment programs and give judges more discretion to decide on probation, treatment or prison sentences for drug offenders.

Sponsored by Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens, chair of the Assembly Correction Committee, the revised law scraps mandatory prison sentences, but keeps maximum prison sentences in place. Judges will have broad discretion when sentencing defendants to tailor penalties to the facts and circumstances of each drug offense and to sentence certain nonviolent drug offenders to probation and drug treatment rather than mandatory prison.

“These reforms are long overdue,” Aubry says. “This legislation provides for a more sensible, comprehensive and cost-effective approach for dealing with lower-level drug offenders and addicts.”

Treatment programs in New York City have a 10 percent recidivism rate for participants one year after completion, compared to 60 to 70 percent for those not in programs. Treatment works, Aurbry says.

Previous efforts to reform the drug laws were blocked in the state senate by Republicans who lost the majority of votes in the legislature in January.

“More than 35 years after the Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted, it is clear that these laws mandating imprisonment for even lower-level offenders have failed to effectively combat drug abuse or reduce the incidence of violent crime,” says Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. This legislation restores humanity to drug policy without endangering the public,” he says.

Under the new provisions, probation or local jail sentences would still be denied to adults caught selling drugs to children, drug dealers who use loaded guns and drug kingpins, according to legislators.

Facing financial deficits, the lawmakers say New York now spends about $45,000 per year for each drug offender in prison. The state has saved nearly $100 million since the Rockefeller laws were revised in 2004 to lower maximum sentences, according to lawmakers.