New York Among Others in Focusing on Treatment, not Toughness on Drugs
An Associated Press story about how states are moving toward treatment options like drug courts.
States pull back after decades of get-tough laws
By DEBORAH HASTINGS
"A huge percentage of these people can be treated," said acting New York Supreme Court Justice Laura Safer Espinoza, who has spent more than a decade in a Bronx drug court. "They can become producers instead of drainers."
In her court, nonviolent drug offenders who stay clean while working or attending school full time can have their sentences reduced or dismissed. "We have a 55 to 60 percent success rate," she said. "That is excellent for the kind of people we're talking about."
At least 16 other states in the past year have changed regulations.
Last month in Kentucky, where the prison budget is nearly half a billion dollars, Gov. Steve Beshear signed bills expected to save more $16 million by allowing addicts to seek treatment instead of prison, as well as other incentives.
Kansas and New Jersey reduced the number of parolees who would have faced going back to prison for technical violations such as missing meetings with their parole officer, according to an analysis released last week by The Sentencing Project, a research and reform advocacy group.
"The rapid rise in prison populations over the past two decades has now collided with the fiscal crisis," said executive director Marc Mauer. The U.S. prison and jail population has reached an all-time high of more than 2.3 million, the report said, based on government figures.
Related article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/opinion/lweb05druglaw.html
Governor's Press Release at http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/archives/2009/03/ny_press_releas.html
"Senate Majority Leader Smith said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era for New York’s sentencing laws. Rockefeller Drug Law reform will reverse years of ineffective criminal laws, protect communities and save taxpayers millions of dollars that were wasted on the current policy. With more money going toward treatment instead of costly imprisonment, our State will finally have a smarter policy, giving families a fighting chance in the war on drugs.”"
"Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein said: “Judicial discretion has always been one of the core principles for which the Assembly has fought. With the expansion of drug courts and other options to treat addicts, we are moving toward dealing with the underlying problems of drug offenders – giving them the opportunity to get treatment and reduce recidivism in New York.”"
According to the Release:
There are three significant pieces of the agreement. First, it creates a drug treatment program to be administered by drug court judges.
+ Under this program, judges will have discretion to place addicted first and second-time drug offenders into judicially-approved alcohol and substance abuse treatment – over the objectionsof prosecutors.
+ This agreement also recognizes that drug-addicted persons often commit other crimes, such as property and theft offenses. This agreement will make treatment available to these non-violent addicted offenders who commit these offenses.
+ The agreement maximizes an addicted offender’s chance of success in overcoming addiction, by relying on New York’s highly successful drug courts to administer the new treatment model. Drug courts use specially-trained judges who build relationships with offenders, closely monitor their progress and reward their successes. They are also staffed with case managers and vocational and employment specialists to assist offenders in obtaining education and jobs.
+ For the first time, the agreement gives judges the authority to dismiss all charges or seal the arrest and conviction records of offenders who successfully complete a judicially-sanctioned treatment program. It also gives judges complete discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for those offenders who are unable to succeed in the treatment program.
+ The agreement recognizes that relapses are often part of recovery from long-term drug addiction. It would require judges to consider whether a non-incarceratory remedy, such as heightened supervision or more frequent testing and treatment, could effectively be used if an offender under court supervision suffers a relapse.
+ The agreement vastly expands the availability of drug treatment programs and commits tens of millions of dollars to inpatient treatment programs, outpatient treatment programs and community residential facilities.
+ Recognizing that some offenders may require more supervision than can be provided through community-based drug treatment programs, the agreement expands the use of programs such as the “shock” incarceration program and the Willard drug treatment program, to give judges additional sentencing options for these offenders.
+ The agreement also permits the State Division of Parole to discharge early from continued parole supervision those drug offenders who have demonstrated success and rehabilitation while serving a term of post-release supervision.
Second, the agreement relieves new offenders from some of the old Rockefeller Drug Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions and provides additional relief to offenders who remain incarcerated under the old laws.
+ The agreement eliminates mandatory State prison sentences for first-time class B felony drug offenders and second-time non-violent class C, D and E drug offenders, making them eligible for a term of probation that could also include drug treatment, or a local jail sentence.
+ The agreement permits class B drug felons who meet eligibility criteria and who are currently serving Rockefeller Drug Law sentences to enter the six-month shock incarceration program when they are within three years of release. If successful, they would be entitled to early release from prison.
+ The agreement also requires the Board of Parole to consider current, lower sentencing ranges when deciding whether to release a class B drug offender to parole supervision.
Third, the agreement ensures that offenders who are not addicted, but who profit from the addictions of others, are appropriately sentenced to State prison.
+ The Governor believes that law enforcement should target drug kingpins instead of low-level drug users and his agreement creates a new drug “kingpin” offense that targets organized drug traffickers who profit from and prey on drug users.
+ The agreement also creates new crimes to ensure that adults who sell drugs to children are appropriately required to serve time in State prison.
+ Finally, the agreement retains mandatory prison sentences for class B predicate drug offenders, but allows judges to impose lower prison terms that are similar to those in other states.