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Addiction Treatment Stressed in Drug Law Reform

Since 1973, drug laws in New York State have imposed mandatory minimum prison requirements for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses, including possession of small amounts of drugs.

In April, Governor David Paterson and lawmakers agreed to revise the Rockefeller Drug Laws, arguing that lower-level offenders would be better served with addiction treatment than incarceration. Judges will now be able to decide whether certain offenders can be sent to treatment or counseling rather than prison. At the same time, penalties have been toughened for drug kingpins.

"We are reforming these laws to treat those who suffer from addiction and to punish those who profit from it,” Paterson said.

Many inmates incarcerated under the old law may ask for new, lesser sentences starting today. New York Legal Aid Society lawyer Bill Givney says they have about 270 New York City cases among the roughly 1,100 inmates statewide identified by prison officials as eligible.

The harsh laws were enacted in New York nearly four decades ago by then-governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican who said the laws were needed to fight a drug-related "reign of terror." The strictest provisions were removed in 2004.

Critics have long claimed the laws were draconian and crowded prisons with people who would be better served with treatment for their addictions.

Posted on January 6th, 2010
Posted in Public Policies

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