The Campaign for Effective Criminal Justice
(CECJ), an organization of over a dozen distinguished leaders in law enforcement, politics, business, and clergy intent on reforming New York's drug sentencing laws, criticized Governor George Pataki's revised plan for reform today, saying its modest improvements fell far short of providing meaningful relief for non-violent drug offenders and their families in New York.
Many of the criticisms CECJ has expressed in the past about Pataki's plan remain intact: it continues the relatively low weight threshold of a narcotic mandating a life sentence; excludes of the possibility for retroactive sentence modification for the majority of appropriate prisoners; and lacks funding to accommodate diversion into drug treatment.
"We cannot support any proposal that does not provide for diversion into community-based drug treatment," said CECJ Chair, former Republican State Senator John Dunne. "The governor's plan only allows for drug treatment programs in prison. This, coupled with the fact that it requires a guilty plea and determinate sentences, amounts to diversion into prison rather than from prison."
Though disappointed with the proposal, critics were heartened that the governor acknowledges the need to move away from giving absolute sentencing power to the state's district attorneys, and that he appeared to be open to negotiation.
"The governor's revised plan is an admission that his initial proposal did not enact the dramatic change he promised in January," said Dunne. "However, he must place on the table specific details about whether there will be an additional budget for drug treatment - and retroactivity for inmates currently serving excessive sentences. That's what it will take to negotiate reform in good faith with the state legislators."
CECJ is encouraged that the new proposal would begin to loosen the stranglehold prosecutors have had under existing law on the disposition of non-violent drug cases. The state's district attorneys have been the most vocal opponents of any restoration of judicial discretion to impose appropriate penalties and the reduction of mandatory sentences. However the governor's new plan, say critics, does not differ substantially from his previous proposal.
Pataki's revised proposal is enhanced only by provisions that would allow for Class B offenders, who make up the bulk of non-violent drug offenders in New York State prisons, to be eligible for diversion into drug treatment. The defendant would have to plead guilty; be sentenced to a disproportionately long, determinate prison sentence of 4 to 16 years for a Class B offense; and, if assessed through a still-ambiguous process to be drug dependent, be sent to prison for 9 months to a year before being eligible for confinement in residential drug treatment.
CECJ said they would need to see a formal, written proposal from Pataki before offering a more detailed analysis. But they expressed concern that that the governor's plan appeared to ignore the voices of many of his constituents who advocate a shift in resources from criminal justice to public health - including the Latino Health and Justice Coalition, which recommends increased funding for HIV/AIDS treatment along with greater diversion of non-violent offenders. Pataki's proposal, critics say, also ignores the pleas of the thousands of New Yorkers who have been tirelessly campaigning for retroactive sentencing for their already imprisoned relatives and loved ones.