Monday, March 02, 2009

NY Drug Law Reform On The Fast Track

Besides passing a budget, Governor Paterson is dead-set on reforming our state's regressive drug laws. Unlike his dilli-dallying on the budget, Paterson is clear on what he wants the Legislature to help him accomplish. Giving judges the authority to decide the best sentence for the convicted drug user is what he and many advocates of this reform want. It has been more than thirty long years that we as a state have overreacted in the legal sense to those that get caught using illicit substances and it is far past the time that we should correct the problem by working to treat people's problems, not exacerbate them by sticking as many of them in jail.

From The NY Times:

The Assembly is expected to pass legislation on Tuesday that would once again give judges the discretion to send those found guilty of having smaller amounts of illegal drugs to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison and allow thousands of inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to apply to have their sentences reduced or commuted.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is preparing legislation that it plans to present to Senate leaders on Monday that would also give judges discretion in sentencing, according to a senior administration official involved in drafting the bills. But for now, the governor is not taking a position on whether sentences should be reduced for some prisoners.

For its part, the Senate is expected to take up legislation in the coming weeks that would also be aimed at strengthening judges’ roles in sentencing.
And it can all happen by the beginning of April if the language is inserted into the budget. As the Times tells the story of Paterson being arrested for protesting in front of Pataki's office not too many years ago, it is an important issue to the Governor and admirable goal. To see him accomplish it will be great to see. Not only will it be a victory against the powerful prison lobby, but an intelligent way of turning the "drug war" into a more caring system where society treats those with drug problems instead of throwing them into a penitentary.