New York will ease sentences for drugs

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders have agreed to ease drug laws that were once among the harshest in the nation and led a movement more than 30 years ago toward mandatory prison terms.

The agreement rolls back some of the sentencing provisions pushed through the Legislature in 1973 by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican who said they were needed to fight a drug-related “reign of terror.”

Critics have long claimed the laws were racist and draconian, crowding prisons with people who would be better served with treatment. Planned changes would eliminate mandatory minimum terms for some low-level nonviolent drug felonies, which could cut the prison population by thousands.

“In additional to being unjust, these policies are ineffective,” Paterson said Friday, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers.

Three decades have shown the core issue is often addiction, “a treatable illness,” with far lower recidivism for those who get treatment instead of prison, the governor said.

At the same time, penalties will be toughened for drug kingpins and dealers who sell to children, Paterson said. The measure will be part of the state’s budget package, he said. Lawmakers are trying to enact it by next week.

Across the nation, some states have been pushing sentencing reform to empty prisons and cut costs amid growing budget difficulties. New York’s inmate total has already dropped by 10,000 in a decade to about 60,000, with proposals to close and consolidate prisons thwarted by lawmakers concerned about losing state jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, said Friday it costs the state $45,000 a year to house offenders and that the changes are expected to eventually reduce the state’s prison population by more than 10,000 additional inmates, producing huge cost savings.

If the reforms are approved, about 1,500 inmates would be eligible to apply for resentencing but are not assured of shorter sentences, Paterson said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat whose chamber passed a version of the legislation 98-46, said more effective residential drug treatment costs $15,000 or one-third the cost of prison.

“We’re establishing a more just, more humane, more effective policy for the state of New York,” he said.

Under current law, second possession of a half-gram of cocaine, a Class D felony, requires 3.5 years in prison, said Gabriel Sayegh, project director of the Drug Policy Alliance. The revisions would leave a sentence up to the judge.

One major subtext is race, since 90 percent of those locked up under New York’s drugs laws are minorities, Sayegh said.

“There’s no evidence anywhere to suggest that blacks and Latinos are the ones that are the predominant users or sellers of drugs that would justify the racial disparities in New York,” he said. “This is the most pernicious aspect to us.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

Jamel Alexander, center, listens as a Snohomish County jury records their verdict of guilty, in the murder of Shawna Brune, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  Alexander was convicted in the first degree murder of Brune. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Appeals court orders new trial in Everett woman’s stomping death

Appellate judges ruled that additional evidence should have been admitted in Jamel Alexander’s trial for the murder of Shawna Brune.

Kristy Carrington, CEO of Providence Swedish of North Puget Sound, speaks during a Healthcare Summit at Everett Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Providence, Optum and Premera discuss challenges at Everett summit

Five panelists spoke on labor shortages, high costs and health care barriers Wednesday at Everett Community College.

Most Read