Sentencing laws in New York have not been dramatically changed in over 40 years. In the world of criminal justice and of criminal law, this is an eternity. Laws undergo changes throughout the year and sentencing laws should be no different, adapting to the times.
Following two years of studies, the Commission on Sentencing Reform released their findings last week. They suggested making several changes to bring the current sentencing laws out of the dark ages. Their critics, however say they haven’t asked for enough.
The Commission suggests saving prison sentences and costly resources for more serious criminals while promoting sentencing alternatives for others. These alternatives include things like probation and community treatment programs.
Also recommended is better access to community alternatives for drug convictions. While New York does have treatment and alternative facilities in place, they remain hard to access for people of lower socio-economic levels and minorities.
While there were recommendations made it seems critics are not fond of the vague suggestions coming from the Commission. They were hoping for more drastic changes and substantive differences going forward.
As this report from the Star Gazette says, New York has some of the most confusing sentencing laws in the country. Don’t believe me, look at this simplified version. If the simple version still requires this much thought, imagine how the law books read.
After two years of studies I would expect more as well. Perhaps sweeping changes on the offense classifications and process of determining sentences, or an overhaul of the extremely archaic drug laws that send thousands of people to jail and prison every year for non-violent offenses would have been more appropriate.
Community alternatives are available for people facing criminal charges. It is correct, however, that not everyone has access to them and this is a shame. A good defense attorney knows of the programs out there and can assist their clients in finding the resources.