ALBANY - Gov. Paterson and legislative leaders announced a deal this morning on a drug law overhaul that would divert thousands of offenders from prison to treatment - a move Republicans charged would lead to increased crime.
The agreement - the broadest attack on the strict Rockefeller drug laws since 2004 - would give judges broad discretion to send first-time drug offenders to treatment, a key element of a proposal passed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) earlier this month.
Under the compromise with Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), judges would also have the power to send low-level repeat drug offenders to treatment, although mid-level repeat offenders would still have to face some prison time, sources familiar with the talks said.
Defendants eligible for treatment would have to plead guilty to avoid a stint behind bars.
"We are hoping to forever eliminate the regime of the Rockefeller drug laws and replace it with a system that will give addicts the treatment that they need and give those who profiteer off drug trafficking the punishment that they deserve," the Democratic governor said.