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June 7, 2004 - The Associated Press

Law Enforcement Enters The Fray Over Rolling Back Drug Sentencing

By Joel Stashenko, AP

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

ALBANY- The entrance of law enforcement agencies into the debate over changing drug offender sentencing statues in New York is designed to shape reforms, not thwart them, organizers said.

Police and prosecutors are attempting to present a unified front through their new group, called the Law Enforcement Coalition Against Drug Decriminalization, said Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri, president of the state District Attorneys Association.

A joint state Senate-Assembly conference committee is trying to reach a compromise agreement on rolling back the notoriously harsh drug sentencing laws.

It meets again today, though time for a deal is getting short with the scheduled June 22 deadline for the end of the regular 2004 legislative session looming.

"We are not trying to kill reform," Arcuri said. "We are not trying to kill the negotiations. As the DA's association has said in the past, we would support reasonable changes to the drug laws. There are certain aspects to these proposals that we will not support."

In addition to the District Attorneys Association, other groups in the coalition are those representing sheriffs, police chiefs and police unions.

As the talks have progressed so far, negotiators have tentatively agreed to scale back the harshest of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws, which subject offenders to maximum life sentences for possession or sale of relatively small amounts of controlled substances.

They also agreed to ease punishments for the drug offences at the lowest end of the scale.

But the Republican Senate and Democratic Assembly have so far not been able to bridge differences over the middle-tier offenders, who now generally face 4 1/2-to-9 year sentences if they are repeat offenders.

Arcuri said prosecutors want to retain the right to block the diversion of drug offenders to treatment. And the prosecutors and police agencies in the new coalition want to prevent most drug offenders from avoiding prison entirely in favor of treatment programs.

Michael Blain of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group favoring drug law reform, said the forceful entry of law enforcement's voice in the reform debate was expected.

"We have a strategy for the DA's," Blain said. "The Drug Policy Alliance is not prepared to come public with it. But we are pulling out all the stops to get real reform."

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