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Panel Calls for Overhaul of Drug Laws in N.Y.

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New York’s Commission on Sentencing Reform has issued a report calling for uniform drug-sentencing guidelines and giving judges greater authority to order offenders into addiction treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration, the New York Times reported Feb. 4.

The commission said that standards on what constitutes a drug-addicted offender need to be established. Current restrictions on the types of sentences judges can impose on drug offenders also should be eased, the panel said. Other recommendations included doubling the drug-weight requirements that trigger felony sales and possession charges, making more low-level felony offenders eligible for probation or jail term rather than prison time, and expanding the use of parole.

“New York must continue to reserve costly prison resources for high-risk, violent offenders while making greater use of community-based alternatives to incarceration,” the report said. However, the panel added, “such reforms should be carefully tailored so that the state’s significant gains in public safety are not lost.”

The recommendations are expected to spur action by the Democrat-led state legislature; Gov. David A. Patterson was a major backer of reforming the state’s harsh, Rockefeller-era drug laws as a legislator and said the issue would be one of his top priorities as governor. Legislation based on the recommendations would be drafted immediately, officials said.

The panel was chaired by Denise E. O’Donnell, Paterson’s top public-safety aide.  

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