In a rare moment of cooperation in Albany, Governor Paterson and the state legislature effectively ended the harshest provisions of the much-criticized Rockefeller Drug Laws today. The agreement ends mandatory jail time for first-time and non-violent felony offenders, something that advocates have fought for over three decades. Now judges have total authority to send non-violent addicts to treatment instead of jail.
Changing the laws has been on Paterson’s agenda for years (and something that people expected the Democrats to do once they obtained a majority in Albany). Today the governor said, “As a resident and representative of Harlem, I saw first-hand the devastating effect that drugs have on our communities, and the devastating effect that ill-considered drug laws and drug policies have had on individuals, families and neighborhoods… I have seen too many lives destroyed by outrageously harsh and ineffective mandatory sentencing laws.”
The changes also provide more funding for drug rehab programs, though so far no one has said how much. And it will allow judges to dismiss all charges or seal the arrest and conviction records of offenders who successfully complete treatment programs. According to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, as of 2008, approximately 14,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population.