Gov. David Paterson and New York legislative leaders have reached an agreement to dismantle much of what remains of the state's strict 1970s-era drug laws, once among the toughest in the nation. The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison, says the New York Times. The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.
New York's drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment. The agreement, which requires approval in the Assembly and the Senate, would allow some drug offenders who are currently in prison to apply to have their sentences commuted.