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New York to Loosen Up Tough Rockefeller Drug Laws

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on March 27, 2009 3:13 PM

After years of criticism and debate, New York officials have agreed to ease back on the Rockefeller Drug Laws which have been labeled some of nation's toughest. The AP gave some specifics on the changes and the reasons behind them:

"Critics have long claimed the laws were draconian and crowded prisons with people who would be better served with treatment. The planned changes would eliminate mandatory minimum terms for some low-level nonviolent drug felonies, cutting the prison population by thousands."

Instead, the legislation will give judges discretion to impose a range of alternative punishments including local jail time, probation, treatment at facilities, boot camps, and prejudgment diversion programs. Noteably, about 1,500 inmates sentenced under the prior system are eligible to apply for resentencing, although alternative sentences are not guaranteed by the new laws. Of course, hand in hand with cutting down on prison populations would come cost savings to the state:

"Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, said 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 13,000 people, producing huge cost savings."

Reuters reported that such savings could amount to over $250 million per year. Other states currently debating easing their drug laws in order to soothe their budgetary woes may take note of New York's lead, but not all the news was good for N.Y. drug law offenders as "penalties will be toughened for drug kingpins and dealers."

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