March 27, 2009

Governor Paterson and legislative leaders announce three-way agreement to reform New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws


Governor David A. Paterson Press Releases. For immediate release: March 27, 2009

Sweeping Reform Ends Harsh Sentences for Non-violent Addicts

Focuses on Treatment Rather than Punishment to End the Cycle of Addiction

Governor David A. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced a three-way agreement calling for sweeping reform of the State’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. The agreement eliminates the harsh sentences that the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated by giving judges total authority to divert non-violent addicts to treatment and greatly expanding drug treatment programs. The agreement strikes a careful and appropriate balance to ensure that non-violent addicted offenders get the treatment they need while predatory kingpins get the punishment they deserve.

“I have been fighting to overhaul the drug laws and restore judicial discretion in narcotics cases since I began my career in public service as a State Senator nearly a quarter-century ago,” Governor Paterson 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.”

The Governor added: “I have seen too many lives destroyed by outrageously harsh and ineffective mandatory sentencing laws, and I have also seen too many lives ruined by despicable dealers who prey on the vulnerabilities and addictions of others. I believe this agreement strikes the right balance, and I urge the Legislature to enact it immediately, before more lives and communities are needlessly destroyed.”

Senate Majority Leader Smith said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era for New York’s sentencing laws. Rockefeller Drug Law reform will reverse years of ineffective criminal laws, protect communities and save taxpayers millions of dollars that were wasted on the current policy. With more money going toward treatment instead of costly imprisonment, our State will finally have a smarter policy, giving families a fighting chance in the war on drugs.”

Assembly Speaker Silver said: “Long before we had partners in either the Executive or in the Senate, the Assembly Majority was fighting for real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. With this legislation, we have taken, at long last, a giant leap in establishing a more just, a more humane and a more effective drug policy in the State of New York. No longer will drug use and addiction be considered solely a criminal matter in this State, but a public health matter as well. This legislation recognizes that drug addiction is a disease which calls out for treatment rather than incarceration. I commend the tenacity and the dedication of my colleagues and the leadership of Assemblymembers Aubry, Lentol and Weinstein for their unyielding commitment to this issue.”

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson said: “Today, the Governor and the Legislature have agreed on a major change in public policy. We have created a balanced approach to drug addiction and crime. Our ability to reduce the flow of drugs in our communities is dependent on our ability to reduce the demand. We are now shifting resources to treat drug addiction as a medical problem. By diverting addicts to drug treatment courts, we believe we can get people off drugs and thereby reduce the demand for them. Study after study shows that our policies will make our communities safer and save the taxpayers millions of dollars. Today, we begin anew, offering offenders an opportunity to receive treatment, while maintaining that the safety and security of our neighborhoods, cities, and State remains paramount.”

Senator John L. Sampson said: “This is a promise made, and a promise kept. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have decimated communities and destroyed lives. Our Democratic conference said that once in the Majority we would be instrumental in making changes that positively impact all people across our State. Taking on this issue in our first year as the Majority shows the people that the Senate is serious and will not back down from the big issues. Reforms we made in 2004 were just a down payment, we’ve now paid off the mortgage. So I congratulate the Governor and members of the Assembly. I also congratulate my colleagues, Senators Schneiderman and Hassell-Thompson, who along with myself, were at the table and the forefront of the push to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Senator Eric T. Schneiderman said: “This legislation delivers a big dose of sanity to our State’s sentencing practices. It will make our communities safer, save money and, most importantly, save lives. Thousands of people from every corner of this State will benefit from these reforms. Today NewYork chooses treatment over incarceration—30 years is enough.”

Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry said: “My Assembly colleagues and I continue in our pledge not to give up our fight for greater reform of New York State’s ineffective and imprudent drug laws. While today’s agreement brings us closer to our goal, we recognize the need to do more. We will continue to work with our partners to completely reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said: “Thirty-six years ago I voted against the enactment of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It was clear to me that simply locking drug offenders away without treatment would not be effective. I am pleased that we are finally towards turning this travesty around and judges will once again have more of the discretion they need.”

Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein said: “Judicial discretion has always been one of the core principles for which the Assembly has fought. With the expansion of drug courts and other options to treat addicts, we are moving toward dealing with the underlying problems of drug offenders – giving them the opportunity to get treatment and reduce recidivism in New York.”

The agreement will give judges the discretion to divert non-violent drug addicted individuals to treatment alternatives that are shown to be far more successful than prison in ending the cycle of addiction. Crucially, it also commits tens of millions of dollars to existing and new treatment programs.“

It makes no sense to give judges the authority to place non-violent addicted offenders into treatment if there is nowhere to treat them,” Governor Paterson said. “We must not only overhaul the drug laws, but also provide an infrastructure to ensure that we successfully rehabilitate those who are addicted.”

There are three significant pieces of the agreement. First, it creates a drug treatment program to be administered by drug court judges.

* Under this program, judges will have discretion to place addicted first and second-time drug offenders into judicially-approved alcohol and substance abuse treatment – over the objections of prosecutors.
* This agreement also recognizes that drug-addicted persons often commit other crimes, such as property and theft offenses. This agreement will make treatment available to these non-violent addicted offenders who commit these offenses.
* The agreement maximizes an addicted offender’s chance of success in overcoming addiction, by relying on New York’s highly successful drug courts to administer the new treatment model. Drug courts use specially-trained judges who build relationships with offenders, closely monitor their progress and reward their successes. They are also staffed with case managers and vocational and employment specialists to assist offenders in obtaining education and jobs.
* For the first time, the agreement gives judges the authority to dismiss all charges or seal the arrest and conviction records of offenders who successfully complete a judicially-sanctioned treatment program. It also gives judges complete discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for those offenders who are unable to succeed in the treatment program.
* The agreement recognizes that relapses are often part of recovery from long-term drug addiction. It would require judges to consider whether a non-incarceratory remedy, such as heightened supervision or more frequent testing and treatment, could effectively be used if an offender under court supervision suffers a relapse.
* The agreement vastly expands the availability of drug treatment programs and commits tens of millions of dollars to inpatient treatment programs, outpatient treatment programs and community residential facilities.
* Recognizing that some offenders may require more supervision than can be provided through community-based drug treatment programs, the agreement expands the use of programs such as the “shock” incarceration program and the Willard drug treatment program, to give judges additional sentencing options for these offenders.
* The agreement also permits the State Division of Parole to discharge early from continued parole supervision those drug offenders who have demonstrated success and rehabilitation while serving a term of post-release supervision.

Second, the agreement relieves new offenders from some of the old Rockefeller Drug Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions and provides additional relief to offenders who remain incarcerated under the old laws.

* The agreement eliminates mandatory State prison sentences for first-time class B felony drug offenders and second-time non-violent class C, D and E drug offenders, making them eligible for a term of probation that could also include drug treatment, or a local jail sentence.
* The agreement permits class B drug felons who meet eligibility criteria and who are currently serving Rockefeller Drug Law sentences to enter the six-month shock incarceration program when they are within three years of release. If successful, they would be entitled to early release from prison.
* The agreement also requires the Board of Parole to consider current, lower sentencing ranges when deciding whether to release a class B drug offender to parole supervision.

Third, the agreement ensures that offenders who are not addicted, but who profit from the addictions of others, are appropriately sentenced to State prison.

* The Governor believes that law enforcement should target drug kingpins instead of low-level drug users and his agreement creates a new drug “kingpin” offense that targets organized drug traffickers who profit from and prey on drug users.
* The agreement also creates new crimes to ensure that adults who sell drugs to children are appropriately required to serve time in State prison.
* Finally, the agreement retains mandatory prison sentences for class B predicate drug offenders, but allows judges to impose lower prison terms that are similar to those in other states.

See also: Albany Reaches Deal to Repeal ’70s Drug Laws, by Jeremy W. Peters. (New York Times, March 25 2009.)

March 21, 2009

Merit Time Bill Survey

You are invited to take part in a survey organized by the Prison Action Network (see their newsletter for March 2009).

The following is from the Prison Action Network:

"MERIT TIME BILL SURVEY: We are conducting a survey, the results of which we will take to the sponsors of the Merit Time Bills currently in the NY State Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. We need your opinion. Please help us help you.

There are two Merit Time Bills on the table: S49/A172 and A6487/S2932.

S49/A172 includes all people in prison (except those who have Life without parole) and allows up to 1/3 off of the minimum and maximum sentence.

Bill A6487 expands the existing merit time (1/7) to all persons with a violent offense (including manslaughter) except those serving a life sentence for a murder 1 or murder 2 conviction, a sex offense or a terrorism offense.

We would like to know if you would support a bill that does not include Lifers."

March 14, 2009

Former Parole Board chief has laptop case adjourned toward dismissal

Former Parole Board chief has laptop case adjourned toward dismissal: Alexander also pays county $500 for keeping laptop computer in his home.

Full story by Matt Gryta, in the Buffalo News, 03/14/09.

"George B. Alexander, forced to resign as head of the state Parole Board after he was accused of stealing a laptop computer, was granted a six-month adjournment in contemplation of dismissal Friday.

Buffalo City Judge Jeffrey F. Voelkl issued the ruling for Alexander, 56, who had faced stolen property charges. The state attorney general also agreed to the sentence.

Alexander’s lawyer, John V. Elmore, said Alexander, who had previously served as Erie County probation commissioner, handed over a $500 check to Erie County for having the laptop for a year.

Elmore said Alexander “just forgot” he left the laptop in his Buffalo home in the swirl of activity that sent him to Albany for his job on weekdays, his attorney said.

Under the arrangement, Alexander’s adjournment will expire June 23 — six months after he was arraigned in Buffalo City Court on felony grand larceny and stolen property charges — “and he’ll have a clean slate,” Elmore said.

Alexander currently is a part-time criminal justice instructor at Buffalo State College.

Alexander, who returned to Buffalo on weekends, oversaw a parole operation with an annual $279 million budget and 2,300 employees. However, he neglected to surrender to the county the $1,700 Gateway laptop, which he brought home so his computer-savvy son could check out its bells and whistles, Elmore said.

Elmore said Alexander admitted in writing that he had the laptop from January 2007 to April 2008, when he returned it to the county, and admitted he “deprived” the Erie County Probation Department of its use... ..."

March 11, 2009

Parolee information now available on the NYS Division of Parole website

PAROLEE INFORMATION NOW AVAILABLE ON PAROLE WEBSITE: Public can access parole supervision status of individuals

(The New York State Division of Parole "Parolee Lookup" feature may be found here; further information may be found here.)

Press release from the NYS Division of Parole, March 11th 2009

Henry Lemons, interim chairman of the New York State Division of Parole today announced the launch of a new “parolee lookup” feature on the Division’s website, The public can now access real-time information on the parole status of those currently under supervision as well as those who have completed their supervision.

“Victims, members of law enforcement, state and federal criminal justice agencies and family members routinely have questions about the status of an individual’s parole supervision,” Lemons said. “By creating this valuable online tool, people can have access to this important information 24 hours a day.”

After entering specific information about a person under parole supervision such as a name or identification number, the public will be able to search for details about that individual’s parole status. Data that is available includes the county where the crime was committed, crime of conviction, the date parole supervision began, the status of parole supervision, the address of the parole office that an individual reports to as well as the name and contact telephone number for the parole officer overseeing the case.

The addition of the look-up feature on the website is part of the Division’s goal to make its work more transparent and readily available to the public. It follows the 2008 online addition of the Parole Board interview schedule that allows users to look back at Parole Board determinations over a two year period, and locate the parole interview dates of persons that are scheduled to come before the Board in the next four months.

March 06, 2009

Make jail time a last resort

Make jail time a last resort - commentary by Jonathan E. Gradess on the report of the New York State Commission for Sentencing Reform, February 11, 2009.

"The recent report of the New York State Sentencing Commission, merely toying with sentencing reform, mirrors our past rather than breaking new ground. The Legislature should reject the report, send it to the State Archives, and begin anew...

...The Legislature should abolish all mandatory sentences and return full judicial discretion to judges. Prison sentences should be uniformly shorter, and non-incarcerative sentences should be available for every offense. Prison should be viewed and used as a last resort. The presumption of incarceration that has emerged should be replaced with meaningful procedures to fashion appropriate non-prison sentences. A continuum of non-incarcerative, treatment oriented, graduated sanctions should replace the simple "in" or "out" decision that currently characterizes sentencing. We should impose all sentences with an eye toward making people productive."

Jonathan E. Gradess is executive director of the New York State Defenders Association.

March 02, 2009

States urged to improve probation, parole programs

1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation

The complete report may be found online here.
Factsheet for New York State may be found here.

Release Type: Pew Press Release
Pew Contact: Jessica Riordan, 215-575-4886; Andrew McDonald 202-552-2178

Washington, DC - 03/02/2009 - Explosive growth in the number of people on probation or parole has propelled the population of the American corrections system to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report released today by the Pew Center on the States. The vast majority of these offenders live in the community, yet new data in the report finds that nearly 90 percent of state corrections dollars are spent on prisons. One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections examines the scale and cost of prison, jail, probation and parole in each of the 50 states (please see the 50 state factsheets), and provides a blueprint for states to cut both crime and spending by reallocating prison expenses to fund stronger supervision of the large number of offenders in the community.“Most states are facing serious budget deficits,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. “Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes.”

In the past two decades, state general fund spending on corrections increased by more than 300 percent, outpacing other essential government services from education, to transportation and public assistance. Only Medicaid spending has grown faster. Today, corrections imposes a national taxpayer burden of $68 billion a year. Despite this increased spending, recidivism rates have remained largely unchanged.

Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.

One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides a detailed look at who is in the corrections system and which states have the highest populations of offenders behind bars and in the community. Key findings include:

• One in 31 adults in America is in prison or jail, or on probation or parole. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was 1 in 77.
• Overall, two-thirds of offenders are in the community, not behind bars. 1 in 45 adults is on probation or parole and 1 in 100 is in prison or jail. The proportion of offenders behind bars versus in the community has changed very little over the past 25 years, despite the addition of 1.1 million prison beds.
• Correctional control rates are highly concentrated by race and geography: 1 in 11 black adults (9.2 percent) versus 1 in 27 Hispanic adults (3.7 percent) and 1 in 45 white adults (2.2 percent); 1 in 18 men (5.5 percent) versus 1 in 89 women (1.1 percent). The rates can be extremely high in certain neighborhoods. In one block-group of Detroit’s East Side, for example, 1 in 7 adult men (14.3 percent) is under correctional control.
• Georgia, where 1 in 13 adults is behind bars or under community supervision, leads the top five states that also include Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and the District of Columbia.

The report also analyzes the cost of current sentencing and corrections policies. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in FY2008, or 1 in every 15 general fund dollars. Adding local, federal and other funding brings the national correctional spending total to $68 billion.

While total correctional spending figures have been available before, new data collected by the Pew Center on the States for the report provides the first breakdown of correctional spending by prisons, probation and parole in the past seven years:

• In FY 2008, the 34 states for which data are available spent $18.65 billion on prisons (88 percent of corrections spending), but only $2.53 billion on probation and parole (12 percent).
• For eight states where 25 years of data were available, spending on prisons grew by $4.74 billion from FY 1983 to FY 2008, while probation and parole spending increased by only $652 million. This means that while prisons accounted for one-third of the population growth, they consumed 88 percent of the new corrections expenditures.
• The 34 states that were able to provide data reported spending as much as 22 times more per day to manage prison inmates than to supervise offenders in the community. The reported average inmate cost was $79 per day, or nearly $29,000 per year. The average cost of managing an offender in the community ranged from $3.42 per day for probationers to $7.47 per day for parolees, or about $1,250 to $2,750 a year.

“Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report. “New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn’t. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment.”

One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides states with a blueprint and specific case studies for strengthening their community corrections systems, saving money and reducing crime. Research-based recommendations include:

• Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
• Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
• Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
• Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
• Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance.

Launched in 2006 as a project of The Pew Center on the States, the Public Safety Performance Project seeks to help states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Our Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states. Online at

March 01, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: March 1st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"UPDATE ON GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The judge has been presented with Graziano’s motion to compel Pataki’s deposition, and Pataki's opposition argument. We await her decision."