Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.
Much of what remained of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is no more. Last week, Albany lawmakers, as part of the upcoming budget, agreed to repeal mandatory sentences for drug possession and create programs that focus on treatment and rehabilitation. It also gives judges the discretion to rule on a case-by-case basis whether or not jail or treatment is necessary. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver felt good about the end result.
"This budget advances two long-held Assembly priorities," said Silver. "Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws to emphasize treatment and prevention over incarceration, and an expansion of New York's nickel deposit law to bottled water...will clean up New York's environment and raise an additional $115 million for green initiatives throughout the state."
"It's long overdue," said Assemblyman Michael Benjamin of The Bronx. "It's a victory. It's incremental. It's a bigger step than the last reform."
Assemblyman Keith Wright of Manhattan used stronger words to describe his feelings on the new legislation. "It's groundbreaking, as far as I'm concerned," said Wright. "From what we've had since 1973 to what we achieved with this legislation shows the world is able to move." While Wright played a big part in pushing this through the muck that makes up much of New York State politics, he reserved most of the credit for Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry of Queens. "[Aubry] is the real hero," said Wright. "He's the author and the father of the bill. I'm glad to be a foot soldier in the movement." Aubry, in an interview with the AmNews leading up to the latest deal, conveyed hope that Gov. David Paterson followed through on this change in legislation.
"I think we should be in the position to divert enough money for treatment," said Aubry. "We've met with the governor in his office and he said there will be a commitment to treatment under the new bill.
"That's if the governor keeps his word," said Aubry. As part of the deal, some drug offenders who are currently doing time could apply to have their sentences commuted. But the bigger traffickers of narcotics would be targeted under what's called a "Kingpin" offense. "Give the people a decent chance to reform their lives," said Aubry. It doesn't guarantee anything. We just want to restore a judge's ability to make a decision."
Many state Republicans strongly object to the new reform under the "coddling criminals" defense or under the "treatment's too expensive" defense. Wright had some words for those who use the latter argument.
"It's better to pay now than to pay later," said Wright. "I'd rather treat someone for a drug addiction than constantly bring him in and out of jail." "[The laws] were deformed and we reformed them," said Wright.