The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Announcing Agreement On Reform Of The Rockefeller Drug Laws


Friday, March 27, 2009

[As Prepared for Delivery]

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The Assembly Majority has worked and waited a long, long time - years - for this day when we could declare real and significant progress in the fight to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Long before we had a partner in the Executive, I and my Assembly Majority colleagues were making the case that mandatory minimum sentences are a one-size-fits-all approach that does not work and does not address the substance abuse challenges facing this state.

Long before we had partners in the Senate Majority, we were arguing the facts.

The expense of incarcerating a lower level, non-violent drug offender is $45,000 a year. The cost of placing that offender in a residential drug treatment facility such as those operated by Father Peter Young, with all of the services, is roughly $15,000 annually.

Year in and year out, we worked with the experts. We convened the public hearings. We responded to the call for judicial discretion and we passed legislation.

When New Yorkers voted for change last November, we dedicated ourselves to working with the Governor and with the new Senate Democratic Majority to make this year - 2009 - the year when we enact real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Today, we have done so.

With this legislation, we are at long last, establishing a more just, a more humane and a more effective drug policy for the State of New York.

In February, we in the Assembly Majority passed our own legislation to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. While today's agreement does not go as far as our bill would have, it does encompass the core principles of our plan.

Under this agreement, we significantly increase judicial discretion by making lower-level, first-time felony drug offenders and many lower-level, second-time, non-violent drug felons eligible to be sentenced to probation, local jail time, or both.

We also leave judges the option to exercise their discretion to sentence offenders to the maximum terms available. We require a statutorily defined, uniform drug diversion program while maintaining existing DTAP (Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison) programs.

We encourage the use of drug courts and expand the availability of drug treatment in our state prisons.

Most important, this agreement begins to fundamentally shift the foundation of New York's drug policy. No longer will drug use and addiction be considered solely a criminal matter in this state, but a public health matter as well.

This legislation recognizes that drug addiction is a disease for which there are better, more humane, more effective, less costly alternatives than incarceration.

In closing, let me take a moment to acknowledge a few of my Assembly Majority colleagues who have joined me in leading the fight to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws for nearly a decade:

First and foremost, the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction, a long-recognized champion of drug law reform and a leader who has devoted much of his legislative career to this issue, Assembly Member Jeff Aubry;

The Chair of the Assembly Committee on Codes, who has invested years of work and spent days in public hearings to help us craft our reform legislation proposal, Assembly Member Joe Lentol;

And the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, who has likewise conducted years of public hearings on this issue and has contributed significantly to our reform effort, Assembly Member Helene Weinstein.

I am confident that the success we have achieved today, will pave the way to additional reforms of New York's drug laws and criminal justice policy, and more of the kinds of progressive policies that New Yorkers were voting for when they went to the polls last November.