The Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH) studied the impact of 2009 reforms to New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws that eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of a range of felony drug charges and expanded eligibility for diversion to treatment. Researchers compared cases pre and post reform to assess changes in the use of jail and prison, rates of diversion to treatment, racial disparities in sentencing, recidivism, and cost.
This work, conducted under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice, included 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:
- described sentencing outcomes by analyzing administrative data on felony drug cases indicted before and after the reforms, and conducted case file reviews and interviewed judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to explore the factors influencing charging and sentencing decisions;
- compared recidivism outcomes for individuals charged with felony drug crimes before and after the reforms; and
- conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the reforms.
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 contributed 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.
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