Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Goes Into Effect

October 7, 2009

On October 7, 2009, legislative reform of New York State’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws went into effect. Under the new law, passed by the Assembly and the Senate and signed into law by Governor David Paterson in April 2009, judges will have discretion to sentence certain lower-level, first-time felony drug offenders and lower-level, second-time, non-violent drug felons to probation, local jail time, or both – rather than long mandatory sentences in State prison required under the old law. The new law also includes provisions to strengthen drug-treatment programs as alternatives to prison; such alternatives will not be available for offenders who have committed a violent felony or sold drugs to minors.

The reforms, which have long been supported by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, are intended to create a more humane, more effective, and far less costly system for addressing drug crimes, without compromising public safety. The Rockefeller-era laws have long increased the destructive force of drug addiction in our communities with high rates of incarceration and recidivism among non-violent offenders. The State, which spends about $45,000 per year incarcerating each drug offender in State prison, has identified 1,100 such offenders currently serving prison terms under mandatory sentencing who now will be eligible for judicial reconsideration of their sentences.