Drug Law

New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws Closer to Gone

| by Reason Foundation

New York Gov. David Paterson and state legislative leaders have reached agreement on legislation that will eliminate most of the remaining mandatory sentences required by the Rockefeller-era drug laws. Under the legislation, judges rather than prosecutors will have discretion to send first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. Other details:

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 agreement also increases penalties for adults who sell drugs to children.

A Class B felony is the most common charge under the Rockefeller drug laws, triggering a minimum sentence of one to three years. It applies to possessing between one-eighth of an ounce and two ounces of cocaine or heroin, or possessing any amount with an intent to sell it.

This legislation is not all good, especially the part where nonaddicts who sell drugs automatically go to prison, but on the whole it's a big improvement. Although I have strong reservations about the medicalization of drug policy exemplified by replacing prison with "treatment," there's no question that most drug offenders would prefer the latter option, even when it's a charade.

I noted the latest round of Rockefeller drug law reform a few weeks ago.