Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New York's Success Story

Reforming and abolishing mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws lowers prison populations, saves taxpayers money, helps offenders get the rehabilitation they need, and doesn't increase crime.

Just ask New York.

That's the gist of this thorough and thoroughly engaging article from the Poughkeepsie Journal that came out this Sunday.  It's full of good news for a state that launched the tough-on-crime mandatory minimum movement in the 1970s and is now seeing the fruits of scaling back those draconian laws, creating sensible alternatives to prison, and getting smart on crime:
Nearly 40 years after tough new drug laws led to an explosion in prison populations, New York state has dramatically reversed course, chalking up a 62 percent drop in people serving time for drug crimes today compared with 2000, according to a Poughkeepsie Journal analysis.
The steep decline — driven, experts said, by shifting attitudes toward drug offenders and lower crime — means that nearly 16,000 fewer minorities serve state time today than in 2000, groups that were hardest hit by the so-called war on drugs. Overall, the prison population declined 22 percent. ...

Similarly, the rolls of city jails dropped 16 percent since 2000, while county lockups statewide had a 15 percent hike, statistics show.
The decline in drug convicts means more of the type of inmate for which penitentiaries were constructed: violent offenders.
Today, the No. 1 most serious crime of sentenced inmates is second-degree murder, with just over 8,000 convicts — about the same as in 2000.
In 2000, the most common top crime for which inmates were incarcerated was third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance — with almost 10,000 people sentenced. That's now down to about 3,000.

"I would argue that the right people are being sentenced to prison," said Brian Fischer, New York state's prison commissioner. "Was prison the best alternative for drug abusers? Clearly it was not."
That's a message the whole country is starting to tune into, and the federal government shouldn't be the last to hop on this train.