Governor Pataki Unveils Proposal to Reform New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws
The Campaign for Effective Criminal Justice, an organization of over a dozen distinguished leaders in law enforcement, politics, business, and clergy intent on reforming New York's drug sentencing laws, commends Governor Pataki for proposing legislation to reform the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws. According to CECJ Chair, former State Senator John Dunne,
"We believe the proposal put forth by Governor Pataki is a good start towards "right-sizing" New York's justice system to strike the appropriate balance between public safety and public health. We hope that reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws will be at the top of the agenda of our legislative leaders and result in the enactment of legislation that will restore fairness and rationality to our approach to substance abuse in New York."
The Governor's proposal rightly raises the main issues essential to meaningful reform - reduction in sentences; restoration of judicial discretion to divert appropriate offenders to drug treatment and, most importantly - retroactive application to some of the thousands of New Yorkers currently incarcerated for drug offenses. In putting forth this proposal, Governor Pataki joins the ranks of a growing number of public officials who have proposed departing from the needlessly punitive drug sentencing policies of the past and enacting legislation that recognizes the effectiveness of drug treatment over incarceration.
According to CECJ, the governor's proposal does not go far enough. It does not provide relief for the majority of incarcerated drug offenders, nor does it restore judicial discretion in the vast number of drug cases. In addition, the budget proposal released by the Governor's office on Tuesday, while providing increased funding for a broad array of worthy initiatives, did not include any increased funding for expanding drug treatment capacity. Currently, New York has insufficient capacity to meet the treatment needs of uninsured persons with substance abuse problems. "If the Governor and the legislature are serious about increasing and promoting alternatives to incarceration throughout the state for nonviolent drug offenders, a major increase in funding to expand drug treatment services will be needed," says Dunne.
During the past year both Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have expressed their support for "meaningful" reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. CECJ's definition of "meaningful" reform includes:
- Trial judges should have discretion to sentence non-violent addicted offenders to mandatory, court-supervised community-based treatment regardless of the nature of the charge.
- Sentencing reform should be retroactive so that the majority of inmates currently sentenced under these laws can petition the courts for review of their sentences.
- The definition of "drug kingpin" should target the heads of drug trafficking organizations, not low-level street sellers. Except for "drug kingpins", sentences for felony drug sale and possession should be substantially reduced so as to be proportionate with sentences for other non-violent crimes.
- Alcoholism and substance abuse treatment and alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs should be expanded substantially to accommodate increased diversion from incarceration of appropriate offenders.