Senate, Governor and Assembly Announce Three-Way Agreement to Reform Rockefeller Drug Laws

Malcolm A. Smith

March 27, 2009

(Albany, NY)- Today, Governor David A. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and members of the Senate and the Assembly announced an historic three-way agreement calling for sweeping reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The agreement eliminates the ineffective and outdated sentencing law and focuses on treatment rather than punishment to end the deadly cycle of drug addiction.
The bill will greatly expand drug treatment programs and give judges total authority to divert non-violent addicts to treatment, saving taxpayers millions of dollars while providing the necessary tools for addicts to fight their addiction. The bill strikes a careful and appropriate balance to ensure that non-violent addicted offenders get the treatment they need while predatory kingpins get the punishment they deserve, while ending the cycle of addiction and recidivism.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era for New York’s sentencing laws. Rockefeller Drug Law reform will reverse years of ineffective criminal laws, protect communities and save taxpayers millions of dollars that were wasted on the current policy. With more money going toward treatment instead of costly imprisonment, our state will finally have a smarter policy, giving families a fighting chance in the war on drugs,” said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.
Senator Eric T. Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), Chair of the Senate Codes Committee said, “This legislation delivers a big dose of sanity to our state’s sentencing practices. It will make our communities safer, save money and, most importantly, save lives. Thousands of people from every corner of this state will benefit from these reforms. Today New York chooses treatment over incarceration—30 years is enough."
Senator John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “This is a promise made, and a promise kept. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have decimated communities and destroyed lives. Our Democratic conference said that once in Majority we would be instrumental in making changes that positively impact all people across our state. Taking on this issue in our first year as the Majority, shows the people that the Senate is serious and will not back down from the big issues. Reforms we made in 2004 were just a down payment, we’ve now paid off the mortgage. So I congratulate the Governor and members of the Assembly. I also congratulate my colleagues, Senators Schneiderman and Hassell-Thompson, who along with myself, were at the table and the forefront of the push to   reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”
Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon), Chair of the Senate Crime, Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee said, “Today, the Governor and the Legislature have agreed on a major change in public policy. We have created a balanced approach to drug addiction and crime. Our ability to reduce the flow of drugs in our communities is dependent on our ability to reduce the demand. We are now shifting resources to treat drug   addiction as a medical problem. By diverting addicts to drug treatment courts we believe we can get people off drugs and thereby reduce the demand for them. Study after study shows that our   policies will make our communities safer and save the tax payers millions of dollars. Today, we begin anew, offering offenders an opportunity to receive treatment, while maintaining that the safety and security of our neighborhoods, cities, and state remains paramount."
Crucially, it also commits tens of millions of dollars to existing and new treatment programs, such as inpatient treatment programs, outpatient treatment programs and community residential facilities, which will save the state money in the long run by helping people overcome addiction and return as functioning members of society
There are three significant pieces of the agreement.
1)   It would create a drug treatment program to be administered by drug court judges . Under this program, judges will have discretion to place addicted first and second-time drug offenders into judicially-approved alcohol and substance abuse treatment – over the objections of prosecutors. It also gives judges complete discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for those offenders who are unable to succeed in the treatment program.  
The bill maximizes an addicted offender’s chance of success in overcoming addiction, by relying on New York’s highly successful drug courts to administer the new treatment model.   The specially-trained drug court judges often build relationships with offenders, which greatly improves their chances of succeeding. Drug court judges are known for closely monitor the addicted offenders’ progress and reward their successes.   Drug courts are also staffed with case managers and vocational and employment specialists to assist offenders in obtaining education and jobs.
Judges have the authority, for the first time, to dismiss all charges or seal the arrest and conviction records of offenders who successfully complete a judicially-sanctioned treatment program.   It also recognizes that relapses are often part of recovery from long-term drug addiction. It would require judges to consider whether a non-incarceratory remedy, such as heightened supervision or more frequent testing and treatment, could effectively be used if an offender under court supervision suffers a relapse.
Recognizing that some offenders may require more supervision than can be provided through community-based drug treatment programs, the bill expands the use of programs such as the “shock” incarceration program and the Willard drug treatment program, to give judges additional sentencing options for these offenders.
The bill also permits the Division of Parole to discharge from continued parole supervision those drug offenders who have demonstrated success and rehabilitation while serving a term of post-release supervision.
2) The bill relieves new offenders from some of the old Rockefeller Drug Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions and provides additional relief to offenders who remain incarcerated under the old laws.
The bill eliminates mandatory state prison sentences for first-time class B felony drug offenders and second-time non-violent class C, D and E drug offenders, making them eligible for a term of probation that could also include drug treatment or a local jail sentence.   It also permits class B drug felons who meet eligibility criteria and who are currently serving Rockefeller Drug Law sentences to enter the six-month shock incarceration program when they are within three years of release.   If successful, they would be entitled to early release from prison.
The bill also requires the Board of Parole to consider current, lower sentencing ranges when deciding whether to release a class B drug offender to parole supervision.
3) The bill would ensure that offenders who are not addicted—but who profit from the addictions of others—are appropriately sentenced to state prison. As part of the effort to target drug kingpins, this legislation creates a new drug “kingpin” offense that targets organized drug traffickers who profit from and prey on the vulnerabilities of addicted users who often relapse.
The bill creates new crimes to ensure that adults who sell drugs to children are appropriately required to serve time in state prison, as well as retains mandatory prison sentences for class B predicate drug offenders but allows judges to impose lower prison terms similar to other states.