March 2001
View Points 2001

From the New York State Assembly Black Square Sheldon Silver, Speaker
Joseph R. Lentol, Chair, Codes Committee Black Square Jeffrion L. Aubry, Chair, Correction Committee

Assembly Budget Includes Comprehensive Plan to Reduce Drug-Related Crime

Assembly initiative addresses core problem of drug addiction while
combating major drug traffickers and dealers who prey on our children

As part of this year’s budget proposal, the Assembly has put forth a detailed plan to reform New York’s drug laws. Our comprehensive plan will help reduce drug related crime by sentencing nonviolent drug offenders to drug treatment programs, providing judges with greater sentencing discretion, and keeping major drug traffickers behind bars longer.

Click here to view the Assembly’s report entitled "The Drug Law Reform, Drug Treatment, and Crime Reduction Act of 2001"

Reducing crime by sentencing nonviolent offenders to drug treatment

The cornerstone of the Assembly’s plan is an effort to reduce New York’s crime rate by sentencing nonviolent drug offenders to effective drug treatment programs.

According to a 1997 RAND Corporation study, drug treatment is 15 times more effective in reducing serious crime committed by drug offenders than mandatory minimum sentences. A National Institute on Drug Abuse analysis further shows that drug treatment programs, on the whole, are successful in reducing levels of drug abuse and crime among participants and in increasing their ability to find and hold a job.

Under our plan, judges could sentence class B, C, D and E felony drug offenders, whose nonviolent crimes resulted from drug abuse, to mandatory drug treatment programs at a residential treatment facility instead of prison. Those who do not successfully complete the required treatment would face a felony conviction –– which for repeat offenders would mean a mandatory prison sentence.

Current inmates could also petition their sentencing courts for early entry into this drug treatment program. Those who committed violent felonies or sold or tried to sell drugs to children would not be eligible for this program.

Ensuring the penalty fits the crime

The Assembly plan would give judges greater discretion to impose sentences.The proposed sentencing changes would:

  • reduce the minimum sentencing requirements for nonviolent, lower level drug offenders;
  • increase penalties for major drug traffickers from 15 to 25 years to life to 15 to 30 years to life;
  • increase sentences for adult offenders who sold or attempted to sell drugs over the Internet; and
  • reduce minimum sentences for most class A-1 felons who are not major drug traffickers. However, courts would retain the discretion to impose the current 15 to 25 years to life sentence, and offenders with a prior violent felony conviction would be excluded from any sentencing reduction.

Providing tougher sentences for dangerous offenders

In addition to increasing sentences for major drug traffickers and those attempting to sell drugs to our children, the Assembly plan also combats the deadly connection between drugs and firearms.

Our proposal would create a process which would lead to a ban on the sale of "Saturday Night Special" handguns and increase prosecution for illegal gun traffickers who sell large amounts of firearms to drug gangs.

Reforming the justice system’s approach to drug treatment

Drug treatment programs operated by prisons, the state Division of Parole and probation departments would be improved under the Assembly plan.

New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye has called for an expansion of drug courts to every county in the state during the next three years. The Assembly is committed to this goal and our plan would enact and fully fund this initiative.

In addition, our plan requires every inmate on probation, parole, or in a state correctional facility with a documented drug or alcohol abuse problem to undergo a treatment program lasting at least one year.

The program would also be required of appropriate juvenile offenders and include mandatory testing for all participants.

The Assembly plan also strengthens post-release supervision by hiring additional parole officers to supervise released drug offenders.

Providing the resources to make drug law reform work

The Assembly backs up its proposal with a long-term plan to use the savings from the prison system for drug prevention and treatment programs that have proven to be effective tools toward reducing crime.

It’s estimated that the reductions in the state prison population over the past year will save roughly $100 million. When fully implemented, the Assembly plan will save the state more than $160 million a year. The plan would direct the savings into a new "Crime Reduction Fund." Funds would also be used to prevent children from using drugs in the first place.

Ongoing efforts to make our communities safer

These comprehensive drug law reforms continue the Assembly Majority’s commitment to making our communities safer places to live and raise a family.

Expanding the state’s criminal DNA database, enacting Megan’s Law, the death penalty, longer prison sentences and no parole for violent felons have helped reduce the crime rate by 33% since 1994.

Building on that success, last year we won historic new laws banning assault weapons, keeping guns out of the hands of children and criminals, and cracking down on hate crimes and school violence.

The time has come to reform our state’s outdated drug laws. The Governor has finally realized this and recently came forward in support of such reform. The Assembly looks forward to working with the Governor and the Senate to enact meaningful drug law reform this year.

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