The state Senate should approve a bill to amend the archaic Rockefeller drug laws for the sake of low-risk offenders and the taxpayers who pay to keep them in jail.

The state Senate should approve a bill to amend the archaic Rockefeller drug laws for the sake of low-risk offenders and the taxpayers who pay to keep them in jail.

The Assembly passed such a measure earlier this month. It would give judges discretion to “tailor the penalties of the penal law to the facts and circumstances of each drug offense and … sentence certain non-violent drug offenders to probation and drug treatment rather than mandatory prison.”

That only makes sense. Prison is likely to do more harm than good to non-violent drug offenders. Instead of getting the help they need to break a destructive habit, they’re thrust in with an assortment of hardened criminals whose influence is not likely to help them turn their lives around.

In addition, taxpayers pay enormous sums of money to incarcerate people who – instead of being behind bars – should be receiving treatment for their addiction so that they can become contributing members of society.

The Rockefeller drug laws — named after Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York’s governor when the laws were adopted in 1973 — essentially lump all drug dealers and users into one group. Modest reforms were made in 2004 that reduced lengthy sentences, but judges still weren’t given discretion to sentence offenders to treatment instead of prison. This bill provides that.

Judges will have the discretion to take each case on its own merit. By weighing each case separately, judges can still keep the most dangerous drug offenders off the streets without severely punishing those who could benefit from treatment.

The legislation would still require mandatory prison time for anyone who sells drugs while possessing a weapon, adults who sell drugs to children, and drug traffickers.

But dealing with convicted drug offenders has no one-size-fits-all solution. This bill would enable judges to ensure that, when it comes to some non-violent drug offenders, the punishment fits the crime.

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