1,000 Avoid Prison, Many Shun Treatment In New NY Drug Laws


One year after the final piece of a New York state law to soften the harsh Rockefeller drug laws was put into place, a report estimates that 1,000 people have avoided state prison as a result while more than 300 have been resentenced, the New York Law Journal reports. The 2009 reforms eliminated mandatory minimum prison sentences for first- and many second-time non-violent felony drug offenses and certain classes of property offenses related to drug use, including third-degree burglary and third- and fourth-degree grand larceny.

The legislation also gave judges discretion to divert from prison to treatment programs over the objection of prosecutors individuals charged with felony-level B, C, D or E drug offenses and specified property offenses. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services said that 1,600 fewer offenders were sent to state prison in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 for drug crimes and associated property offenses. Of the overall decline of 1,600, 600 can be attributed to fewer drug arrests — a factor not affected by the new law. But 300 fewer commitments were due to the elimination of mandatory minimums and 700 to judicial diversion. Bridget Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor for New York City, who raised questions about the law before it was passed, said it is too soon to tell whether it will have a positive or negative impact. Brennan said the law has reduced the incentives for defendants to accept treatment. While defendants once faced state prison time, they now can be sentenced to shorter local jail sentences or placed on probation for drug offenses. “We are seeing most of them say that they would rather do their time than go through the hard work of a [drug] treatment program,” she said.

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