On March 4th, Senator Schneiderman, et al, introduced a number of revisions to the Rockefeller era strict drug laws to the New York State Legislature. The law were originally introduced during the tenure of the then-Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller in 1973. The laws provide for mandatory sentencing minimums for various drug offences.
Perhaps fearing that he would not be able to garner enough support to pass these changes as a stand-alone bill, Governor Paterson and the legislature are making these amendments to the NY PenalCode part of their vote on the budget.
The new law would give judges more sentencing leeway with narcotics offenders. They could be sentenced to local jails, probation, a military-style “shock camp” or a prison-run drug treatment facility.
Many have lamented the dramatic increase in the U.S. prison population from 300,000 in 1973 to about 2.3 million today. One obvious reason is the large number of drug offenders. Certainly by defining fewer things as criminal, or sentencing drug offenders to treatment rather than jail time, we can expect that the prison population to go down.
According to Malcom Smith, the New York State Senate Democratic Majority Leader, prisoners costs taxpayers about $45,000 per inmate per year. And according to Sheldon Silver, it would only cost the State about $15,000 to pay for treatment in lieu of jail time.
Perhaps only time will tell if these changes will result in more crime through lighter sentencing or will be even more effective than current laws, while saving the State some much-needed money.
As always though, anyone who is facing drug charges should use a lawyer with significant criminal defense experience.