Deal Reached to End Rockefeller Drug Laws
New York Governor David Paterson announced Thursday a deal has been reached with state legislators to repeal and revise much of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.
The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.
It's not clear how many of those currently serving sentences will be able to apply for relief. Apparently, the legislators are willing to be more expansive in this regard than is Paterson. [More...]
The agreement, which requires approval in the Assembly and the Senate, would allow some drug offenders who are currently in prison to apply to have their sentences commuted. It was not clear on Wednesday how many current prisoners would be eligible to apply. Mr. Paterson has pushed to have fewer prisoners than legislative leaders would prefer.
How it will work:
Under the plan, judges would have the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders in all but the most serious drug offenses — known as A-level drug felonies — to treatment. As a condition of being sent to treatment, offenders would have to plead guilty. If they did not successfully complete treatment, their case would go back before a judge, who would again have the option of imposing a prison sentence.
Currently, judges are bound by a sentencing structure that requires minimum sentences of one year for possessing small amounts of cocaine or heroin, for example. Under the agreement reached by the governor and lawmakers, a judge could order treatment for those offenders.
Judges would also have the option of sending some repeat drug offenders to treatment. Repeat offenders accused of more serious drug crimes, however, could only go to treatment if they were found to be drug-dependent in an evaluation.
Repeat offenders need treatment, not jail. I've used a drug counselor as an expert witness/drug treatment counselor in a case where my female client was looking at prison for having small remnants of a drug in her purse. The counselor came to the hearing at a tiny courthouse in Southern Coloraodo. I put the expert/conselor on the stand and asked her how may clients she has. Her answer: 5oo. I asked her how many of those 500 patients had relapsed during treatment, Here answer was 500--and she then explained to the Judge that this is normal. Everbody trips up the first few weeks until the program clicks in, My client made it through despite her less than perfect pee scores. Cannibis stays in your system up to 28 days. If your THC level goes down the first two months, they assume you havne't smoked since you began the program.
This is a great step in the right direction of ending mandatory incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.
Right now it's the prosecutors charging these mandatory minimum sentences which leaves the judges with no discretion.
We must give sentencing judges the authority they always had, up until 1987 in the federal system to refuse to imopse these sentences if they find good grounds.
America has to learn that it cannot jail itself out of the country's drug problems. The kids and other offenders going in to prison are exposed to a parade of horrors that will stick with them for years, if not forever. After a certain number of years, they become institutionalized. You can tell it when you see them: their eyes are blanker, they walk with their eyes looking down so as not to catch the eye of other inmates that might lead to a fight, etc. etc.
Drug addiction is a disease. Many of these addicts sold drugs to their friends to feed their own habit. They don't show up on elementary school steps hawking drugs to school kids.
The Albany Times says "Just Say Yes" to drug law reform.
We've been waiting for legislatures to reverse course on this "one size fits all" drug policy for years. I'm not expecting it to be a cure-all, but a solid beginning. Let's just get our foot in the door, finally, and then plan to take on the rest.
|< Thursday Morning Weather Thread | Hillary Clinton, the Drug War and Drug Treatment >|