Friday, March 27, 2009

New York eases 1970s drug laws

Another story on this. From Reuters here.

New York state officials agreed on Friday to relax harsh 1970s drug laws that required prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes in favor of laws that will let judges send addicts to treatment programs.

The new regulations will save the state about "a quarter of a billion dollars" a year in costs for housing prisoners, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said at a news conference in Albany, the state capital.

The existing laws -- known as the Rockefeller drug laws for Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller who in 1973 said they were needed to fight a heroin epidemic -- were considered among the nation's stiffest because they required prison terms for offenders and gave judges no discretion in sentencing.

They had been the target of Democrats for years but previous legislative efforts had produced only limited softening.

A joint release from Paterson, the state Senate and Assembly said the agreement eliminates mandatory prison sentences for many first- and second-time offenders and makes them eligible for probation that could include drug treatment. . . .

The Drug Policy Alliance, which has long campaigned against the state's tough drug laws, said New York's prisons hold approximately 12,000 drug offenders, representing nearly 21 percent of the prison population and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

The new laws would create a drug "kingpin" offense for "organized drug traffickers who profit from and prey on drug users." They also would create new crimes for adults who sell drugs to children. . . .

"(Drug courts) not only produce dramatic reductions in recidivism and great savings in social services costs but also serve to reunite families, and most critically (increase) public safety," he said. . . .

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