The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Rockefeller Drug Law Press Conference

Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Center
Friday, April 24, 2009

Speaker Silver (center) joins Governor David Paterson (center right) in addressing advocates for reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, who gathered at the Elmcor Drug Rehabilitation Center in Queens to witness the bill signing ceremony to enact more effective and humane drug laws in New York State. Silver and Paterson were flanked by (from left) Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, Senator Eric Schneiderman, Assembly members Gary Pretlow and Joseph Lentol, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Congressman Charles Rangel and Assemblymen Keith Wright and Jeffrion Aubry.

Assembly Corrections Committee Chair Jeffrion Aubry, who led the battle to reform the state’s drug laws, also participated in the bill signing event. Aubry, a former substance abuse counselor at the Elmcor facility, said the 30-year old Rockefeller Drug Laws, which were modeled on incarceration instead of drug rehabilitation and treatment, "were ineffective, unfair and failed to keep communities around the state safe."

get the flash player to see this video.
Thank you Governor. Thank you for your very kind words.

It has taken a long time to reach this landmark day in New York history. I and my Assembly Majority colleagues have waited years for the time that we could proclaim real and significant progress in the fight to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Despite our hard work, countless hearings and meetings with advocates and drug treatment professionals, we would not be here today without the leadership and partnership of Governor David Paterson.

For years we lacked a Governor who would take a stand on these reforms. From his time in the Senate, David Paterson has shown his dedication to ending the one-size-fits-all approach that has failed to meet the needs of those suffering from drug addiction - an approach that has wasted precious resources and torn families apart. Governor, this would not be possible without you.

We would also not be here today without our new partners in the new Senate Majority - and its Chair of the Codes Committee, Senator Eric Schneiderman. Thank you for making Rockefeller Drug Law reform a priority of your conference's first legislative session in the majority.

Today, drug use and addiction will no longer be considered solely a criminal matter in this state but a public health matter as well.

We know that drug addiction is a disease for which there are better, more humane, more effective and less costly alternatives than prison.

In the State of New York, it costs $45,000 every year to incarcerate one lower level non-violent drug offender. It costs significantly less - about $15,000 each year - to treat that same offender in a residential drug treatment facility such as the one here at Elmcor.

For more than a decade, the Assembly Majority has known that the money invested in drug treatment is money well spent.

For more than a decade we have consulted drug treatment experts, legal advocates and families and concluded that New York needed a more just, humane and certainly a more cost effective drug policy.

Two months ago, the Assembly passed our own legislation to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Although the reforms enacted today do not go as far as we had hoped, they include the core principles of our legislation.

Moving forward, we significantly increase judicial discretion by making lower level, first-time felony drug offenders and many lower level, second-time drug offenders eligible to be sentenced - in judge's discretion - to probation, local jail time or both.

These reforms also leave judges the option to apply their discretion to sentence offenders to the maximum terms available.

Additionally, the reforms mandate a statutorily defined, uniform drug diversion program while maintaining existing DTAP (Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison) programs.

We know that courts throughout the state have been successful and we encourage their use. We expand the availability of drug treatment programs in our state prison system, where for years the needs of our drug addicts have not been fully met.

Still, we understand the need to punish the high level drug dealers who threaten our communities and threaten our children.

These reforms establish criminal offenses that will more severely punish individuals who sell drugs to children and those who reap large profits from engaging in their illegal enterprise.

These vital and historic reforms will dramatically improve the way New York handles drugs and makes our communities safer.

Before I conclude, I must thank my Assembly Majority Colleagues who have joined us here today. For more than a decade they have played a leading role in reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Before I acknowledge Assembly Members Jeff Aubry, Joe Lentol and Helene Weinstein, let me take a moment to recognize those of our colleagues who are joining us today:

Assembly Member Peter Rivera, Assembly Member Keith Wright, Assembly Member Barbara Clark, Assembly Member Chuck Lavine, Assembly Member Bill Boyland, Assembly Member Carmen Arroyo, Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, Assembly Member Grace Meng, Assembly Member Vivian Cook, Assembly Member Danny O'Donnell, Assembly Member Aurelia Greene, Assembly Member Michael DenDekker, Assembly Member Dick Gottfried, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Assembly Member Gary Pretlow, and Assembly Member Pat Eddington.

Certainly, we need to acknowledge Assembly Member Jeff Aubry, the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction. Obviously, his work here at Elmcor has made him a long-recognized advocate of drug law reform. He has devoted much of his tenure in the Assembly to achieving this goal, and we are here today, in part, to acknowledge his successful efforts.

Let me also thank Assembly member Joe Lentol, the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Codes. Along with Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Congressman Charlie Rangel, Joe is one of the few here today who were present on the floor of the Assembly when the Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted.

Joe Lentol had the courage then to recognize that these laws were wrong, and he voted against them. Since then, Joe has spent his years as Chair of the Codes Committee, holding hearing throughout this state, to shape our reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Thank you, Joe Lentol.

Let me also acknowledge my colleague, Assembly Member Helene Weinstein, who chairs our Judiciary Committee.

Helene has presided over hundreds of hours of public hearings on issues that affect the judiciary, related to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, such as putting the discretion back in the courts, and establishing specialized drug courts.

So, I thank Helene and again, today we celebrate her work of so many years, which have been so important to our successful reform efforts.

I also want to acknowledge Russell Simmons, who has spent many years, sometimes arguing that reforms offered previously were not enough. All of the those hours and days of arguments and phone calls certainly are culminating today in this success which has been collectively achieved by so many.

This landmark day sets the course for additional reforms of New York's drug laws and criminal justice policies. Today paves the way to achieving more progressive, responsible and humane policies that New York's families and communities need and demand.

Thank you, Governor, for your leadership, and thank you for bringing us to this day.