Assembly passes measure to reform failed Rockefeller Drug Laws

Legislation eases harsh laws for low-level, non-violent offenders, emphasizes probation, addiction treatment
March 3, 2009

Assemblywoman Russell (D-Theresa) announced that the state Assembly passed legislation which, if enacted, would reform New York’s outdated 35-year-old Rockefeller Drug Laws (A.6085). The bill would restore sentencing discretion to judges for low-level, non-violent drug offenders and make probation a sentencing option; and expand other sentencing and substance and drug treatment options.

“By imposing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach we have failed to make New Yorkers safer and healthier,” Russell said. “All available evidence shows that the mandatory minimum jail sentences associated with the Rockefeller Drug Laws have been ineffective in reducing crime rates or rates of substance abuse.”

Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Health shows that the Rockefeller Drug Laws have been unsuccessful in reducing illicit drug use among New Yorkers. Furthermore, overwhelming numbers of inmates within the prison population continue to suffer from unaddressed substance abuse issues .

William Bowman of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council said: “The current NY drug laws absolutely have to see a reformation. We need to shift the predominantly criminal justice approach to one that emphasizes a public health strategy. Certainly some bad people need to go to jail, but just as certainly some people need counseling and treatment.”

Jennifer Hudson Mosher the supervisor of Jefferson County’s Drug Court said: “We tried to incarcerate our way out of our drug problems. It obviously hasn’t worked. I am very much in favor of rethinking the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Jim Scordo Director of Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions said: “Our judges need discretion in sentencing. The judge has the final say and the final authority. Please allow judges to do the best they can for people who appear before them for sentencing. Drug Courts in New York State, and particularly the one in our county, have been very successful. Let’s use that drug court model as a model for the future.”

Under the reform bill, illegal drugs would remain illegal in New York State. Furthermore, the bill creates new crimes for certain categories of drug-related offenses, including: those who deal drugs while in physical possession of a loaded gun; adults over the age of 21 who deal drugs to minors under the age of 16; and drug kingpins.

Specifically, the Assembly’s reform bill:

  • Permits a judge to sentence non-violent drug offenders to probation, local jail or a combination of both, while continuing to allow judges to sentence offenders to the maximum terms available under the law if the judge finds that circumstances so warrant;
  • Creates new sentencing options for judges – including expanding sentences of “parole supervision,” in-prison substance abuse treatment programs and shock incarceration programs – without being deprived of sentencing options available under current law;
  • Requires the use of community justice information-mapping systems to identify communities with high drug abuse rates, thereby reducing substance abuse and drug-related crime in those communities by targeting resources; and
  • Asks the state Comptroller to quantify the savings generated from the drug law reform and dedicate them to a fund which could be used for drug and alcohol treatment and related alternative incarceration programs, as well as school drug abuse-prevention programs.