The Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH) is studying the impact of recent changes to New York State drug laws that allow shorter sentences and alternatives to incarceration for certain felony drug charges. The reform is a shift from mandatory sentencing guidelines limiting judicial discretion that came into effect in 1973 during the tenure of then-governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and were popularly known as the Rockefeller drug laws. The study will describe the reform’s implementation and explore its implications for public safety and criminal-justice-system costs.
This work, conducted under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice, includes researchers from Vera's Substance Use and Mental Health Program and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Rutgers University. The research team will:
- Describe sentencing outcomes by analyzing administrative data on felony drug cases indicted before and after the reforms, as well as conducting case file reviews and interviewing judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to explore the factors influencing charging and sentencing decisions
- compare recidivism outcomes for individuals charged with felony drug crimes before and after the reforms
- Measure the reform’s impact by conducting a cost-benefit analysis of changes to sentencing, including the costs of various sentences and the costs and benefits of any changes in recidivism
Why This Research Matters
In light of the current fiscal crisis, there is a nationwide drive to reduce incarceration and corrections costs without jeopardizing public safety. Increasingly, states are considering new ways to respond to people convicted of drug offenses, a largely non-violent group that constitutes a sizeable minority of the incarcerated population. As policymakers grapple with sentencing options, there is a pressing need for empirical evidence to inform their decisions. SUMH aims to contribute to this dialogue by documenting the impact of two different approaches to sentencing for drug offenses.
For more information, contact program director Jim Parsons.
This project was supported by Award No. 2010-IJ-CX-0030 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this web page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.
A Natural Experiment in Reform: Analyzing Drug Policy Change in New York
Elizabeth A. Brady
Bridget G. Brennan
Corinne A. Carey
Martin F. Horn
Charles J. Hynes
Michael P. Jacobson
Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Glenn E. Martin
Anita R. Marton
Anne J. Swern