White House Drug Chief Critical of N.Y. Laws!

White House Drug Chief Critical of N.Y. Laws!
Posted by FoM on June 29, 1999 at 20:52:37 PT
By Christopher S. Wren
Source: New York Times
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the retired general who directs the White House's drug control policy, has added his voice to the criticism of the mandatory prison sentences required under New York's stringent drug laws.
In a speech scheduled for Tuesday before a conference on substance abuse and criminal justice in Albany, N.Y., McCaffrey, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, asserts that building more prisons, as New York is doing, will not solve the problem of drug-driven crime. "Even those who helped pass the Rockefeller-era laws now have serious concerns that these laws have caused thousands of low-level and first-time offenders to be incarcerated at high cost for long sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes," he says. Treating offenders for drug addiction instead of just locking them up will reduce crime as well as prison costs, McCaffrey contends, according to an advance copy of his speech. "The larger question we need to focus on is: What is the most effective way to deal with the interrelated problems of substance abuse and the crime it generates?" The general's trip to Albany is one stop in his new campaign to persuade politicians, law enforcement officials and ordinary Americans across the country that imprisoning people for some drug offenses only breeds more criminality in the long run. McCaffrey notes a new study by John DiIulio, a Princeton University professor, reporting that one-fourth of recent admissions to prisons in New York involve felons whose only crimes have been low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. "Our prisons have become akin to graduate schools of crime," McCaffrey says in his prepared speech, "four- to six-year 'mid-crime-career' breaks during which the chronic drug and alcohol abusers are sent away to perfect their ugly trade and to learn even more dangerous criminal acts from those who have already moved up the hierarchy of criminal offenses." New York's drug laws, enacted more than 26 years ago when the late Nelson Rockefeller was governor, are among the toughest in the country. They require state judges to impose sentences as long as 15 years to life for the sale of as little as two ounces, or possession of four ounces, of heroin, cocaine or other hard drugs. As a result, more than 22,300 drug offenders, who make up one-third of New York's state prison population, are locked up, raising confinement costs by $715 million a year, according to the Correctional Association of New York, a prison watchdog group. "Although anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of first-time drug offenders are diverted from prison into treatment by judges in New York state" McCaffrey says, "the number is still far too small relative to the overall number of drug-offense arrestees." Jeffrion Aubry, the chairman of the state Assembly's Corrections Committee, has proposed legislation that would give sentencing discretion back to the judges. Former state Sen. John Dunne tried to rally support for a similar measure. But attempts to end the mandatory minimum sentences have been thwarted by Albany's partisan politics and a fear among Republicans and Democrats of looking soft on crime. By CHRISTOPHER S. WRENPubdate : 6-29-99Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company 
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