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March 25, 2009

State judges in New York asking for greater drug sentencing authority

This new piece from the New York Times, headlined "Letting Judges Have a Say in Sentencing," reports on an interesting front in the debates over drug sentencing law and policy in the Empire State.  Here are excerpts:

Justice Safer-Espinoza and 14 other judges who sit in courts throughout the city are circulating an unusual open letter to ask that [Rockefeller drug] laws, modified in 2005, be changed yet again.

They argue that judges — not just prosecutors — should be able to pick among the remedies for nonviolent people who violate the drug law. For some, the judges say, that will be prison. For others, it will be treatment programs overseen by the courts. “This is not a soft-on-crime issue,” Justice Safer-Espinoza said during a recess on Tuesday. “The point is to give judges more alternatives.”

Anyone looking at the lineup of power in Albany might jump to the conclusion that changes are inevitable. The governor and leaders of both the Assembly and the Senate have come out in favor of reforms. But the New York State District Attorneys Association has argued that its members should continue, in effect, to have power over the sentencing. With Democrats holding the State Senate by a single vote, no one is in a hurry to be accused of coddling criminals.

Under current practices, a prison term can be avoided for many drug offenses only if the prosecutor agrees that the case can be handled outside the ordinary channels....

Between 12,000 and 13,000 people are serving prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, according to Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who is the chairman of the Codes Committee. The state estimates that public spends about $45,000 per year per prisoner.

“There’s widespread agreement that we have to go to more treatment, and there’s agreement about what works,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that that goal can be achieved through different channels. “One of the best programs in the state is run by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.”

The current struggle is really about whether judges or prosecutors will control access to the alternative programs, and whether second offenders should be eligible for consideration. “This is a matter of power,” Mr. Schneiderman said, “not good, dispassionate public-policy assessment.”

To expand treatment, he said, would cost about $80 million, much of which he said could come from the federal stimulus bill. “The savings will come back to us in about two years,” he said. “If you are able to close more prisons, then you will have real savings.”

March 25, 2009 at 07:55 AM | Permalink


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Огромное вам человеческое спасибо, очень актуальная заметка.

Posted by: inalay | Mar 25, 2009 8:56:01 AM

With budget crises facing every state in the union, I suspect we'll hear a lot more about sentencing reform in the coming months.

Posted by: Martin Magnusson | Mar 26, 2009 2:20:21 AM

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