Governor David Paterson, State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have arrived at a mutual understanding to overhaul New York State’s 35-year-old Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The three-way agreement came on Friday, March 27, more than three weeks after the Assembly passed its own series of reforms to the drug laws that critics consider antiquated, ineffective and excessively harsh.
In agreeing to reform the laws, Paterson, Smith and Silver aim to restore judicial discretion to the sentencing process, striking a balance between punishment for violent and repeat drug convicts and “kingpins” and rehabilitation alternatives for lower level offenders.
In a statement, Paterson urged the Legislature to enact the reforms “immediately, before more lives and communities are needlessly destroyed.”
The agreement will give judges the discretion, regardless of any prosecutorial objections, to place addicted first- and second-time drug offenders into judicially-approved alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs. The plan 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 probation with drug treatment or local jail time.
While the proposal calls for tens of millions of dollars to be committed to existing and new treatment options, it also guarantees that non-addicted offenders who take advantage of the addictions of others are sentenced accordingly.
In the statement, Smith said the planned reforms will save taxpayers millions of dollars that, for decades, were wasted under 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,” he said.
Silver assured that the reforms will usher in an era in which drug use and addiction will be treated as a public health matter and not just a criminal concern.
Indeed, alcohol and drug treatment providers like the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and The NYS Association of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP) are applauding the restructuring of the laws.
OASAS Commissioner Karen Carpenter-Palumbo said in a statement that agencies like hers “stand ready to provide the needed treatment that will help families, strengthen communities and save lives.”
Of course, the Paterson-Smith-Silver plan is not without its adversaries.
State Senator Frank Padavan issued a statement proclaiming his “staunch opposition to the so-called reforms” that were announced after “secret budget discussions” with the Governor.
“Any attempt to include radical changes to the state law that has effectively combated drug dealing and has helped keep our community safe within the state budget is the highest form of political chicanery,” he said.