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February 3, 2009

New York commission calling for major drug sentencing reforms

As detailed in this official press release, a "bi-partisan panel that spent nearly two years studying New York State’s sentencing statutes today called for further reforms to the state’s drug laws and provided the Governor, Legislature and Judiciary with several different options for historic reform."  Here is more from the press release:

The Commission on Sentencing Reform agreed on five major principles of drug law reform:

  • Community-based drug treatment, especially when required in a criminal justice setting where the offender faces clearly defined sanctions for program failure, works and should be an available option in every region of the state.
  • The state’s network of existing diversion programs and drug courts has been effective for thousands of drug-addicted offenders, and any new diversion model must be structured so as not to undermine these programs.
  • New York should adopt a comprehensive plan to provide statewide access to substance abuse treatment programs.
  • New York must continue to reserve costly prison resources for high-risk offenders and make greater use of alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders while not jeopardizing the state’s significant gains in public safety.
  • While New York has a large network of successful drug treatment courts and prosecutor-based diversion programs..., these programs are not always made available to deserving offenders in need of treatment. The result is a “hit-or-miss” system that leaves many non-violent, drug-addicted offenders – and particularly persons of color – without access to this potentially life-changing alternative. To help close this gap, the Commission supports the adoption in statute of a uniform statewide drug diversion model.

Though the official press release in conjunction with the release of full report devotes the focused attention on drug sentencing reforms, the full report (available hereand running 326(!) pages) covers many more topics.  The report has an effective executive summary starting at page 27 of the pdf, and everybody following modern debates over sentencing law and policy should make the time to read at least the executive summary ASAP.

Newsday provides here the first press coverage of the report, but I expect there will be (as there should be) a lot more attention given to the terrific work of the New York Commission on Sentencing Reform in the days ahead.

UPDATE:  The Albany Times Union has this blog report on a negative letter from Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, to the chair of the Commission on Sentencing Reform in response to the report.  Here is a snippet:

I write to express my deep disappointment with the final report of the Commission on Sentencing Reform.  Unfortunately, the Commission’s report represents a historic missed opportunity to advance meaningful reform of New York’s antiquated “Rockefeller-era Drug Laws”....

I am troubled that the Commission’s report fails to address a system that has ignored, and still ignores, the health and societal implications of drug abuse, and has ignored the failed laws that have led to African- Americans and Latinos constituting 90% of those incarcerated in our state prisons for drug offenses.  This profound discriminatory impact is even more shocking when the rates of illicit drug use are 8.1 percent for Whites, 7.2 percent for Latinos and 8.7 percent for African-Americans.

MORE:  This New York Times article suggests that the Commission's report is generally getting a warm reception from most state policy-makers:

Legislative leaders said they saw the report as the first step toward broader reform of New York’s drug penalties.  The subject is expected to be revisited in the coming weeks as newly empowered Democrats, who now control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion, move to put their imprint on the state’s social policy.

February 3, 2009 at 12:54 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I am a witness to this harsh drug laws of new york. I was released from state custody 10 months ago and am currently on life parole. I was a passenger in a friends vehicle in which drugs was present. As a result each and every person in the vehicle is presumed to be guilty of knowing of the substance therein. I was sentenced after a jury trail to ten years to life. Not only was I serving time but my mother and loved ones and family had to sufer and serve that time with me. The numerous years without me and constant visits to far away states away from home have had a tremendouse burden and devestating impact on our lives.

Posted by: Juan Montero | Apr 24, 2009 7:57:12 AM

I am a witness to this harsh drug laws of new york. I was released from state custody 10 months ago and am currently on life parole. I was a passenger in a friends vehicle in which drugs was present. As a result each and every person in the vehicle is presumed to be guilty of knowing of the substance therein. I was sentenced after a jury trail to ten years to life. Not only was I serving time but my mother and loved ones and family had to sufer and serve that time with me. The numerous years without me and constant visits to far away states away from home have had a tremendouse burden and devestating impact on our lives. I am currently working as a building superintendent and maintenance and satified with just existing as free fro a cell life

To all that's is reading this blog please keep in mind that all we have is time and patience and must all slow down and enjoy every part of your life. Whether it be a simple rock or a person. Make everything in the world part of you because u are part of it. Simply exist and live.
Thanking you for the time always.
Juan montero

Posted by: Juan Montero | Apr 24, 2009 8:13:56 AM

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