Written by attorney Thomas Arthur Kenniff

An Overview of New York's Revised Rockefeller Era Drug Laws

Although many people still face mandatory periods of incarceration, the New York's new drug laws now focus on rehabilitation and reduce prison sentences for simple possession offenses. The new laws create a Judicial Diversion program, which allows offenders to seek treatment. The new laws also remove the requirement that the prosecution consent to sentences of parole supervision, otherwise known as the Willard program, when a defendant is considered a prior felony offender. The new laws seek to punish more harshly the traffickers than the users.

There are major changes with the New Legislation. A few of these changes include:

1) For first felony drug and marijuana offenses (Class B, C, D, & E): Imprisonment is no longer mandatory. Probation and/or a split sentence are now available dispositions. In addition, the Court can order the defendant directly into the SHOCK or Willard Drug treatment program if the person is sentenced to upstate imprisonment.

2) Second felony offenders (with non-violent prior felony convictions): Imprisonment is no longer mandatory if the defendant is “judicially diverted." Diversion, as well as the other programs, will be explained further below. Additionally, the minimum prison sentence has been reduced from a mandatory 3 ½ years to 2 years for a B felony and reduced to 1 ½ years from a mandatory 2 years for a C felony.

3) The new law does not require DA consent for the Willard Drug Program. The old law required DA approval before the judge could sentence a defendant to a sentence of parole supervision. In addition, certain offenses only were Willard eligible offenses, and that list has been expanded to include more offenses.


A) The Willard Program

Willard was originally established as a joint program between the Division of Parole, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASES). It was established to target certain class D and E second felony offenders whose criminal conduct was related to a substance abuse problem. Willard itself is a sentence of parole supervision, with the first 90 days spent in an intensive drug treatment program. Those who have been previously convicted of a class B Article 220 offense are no longer excluded from Willard. The District Attorney no longer needs to consent to a Willard sentence. Finally, Willard is now available for first time B felony drug offenders.

B) SHOCK Incarceration (Correction Law Sections 865-867)

Shock is a 6 month long boot-camp style program that provides intensive substance abuse treatment, education, and an opportunity for a significantly reduced prison sentence for those who successfully complete the program. Graduates are awarded an Earned Eligibility Certificate and are immediately eligible for parole release (those serving indeterminate sentences) or conditional release (those serving determinate sentences). Until the 2009 amendments, eligibility for Shock was determined only by DOCS after reception at a facility. Unlike Willard, decisions regarding placement in Shock was solely the province of DOCS, and judges had no authority to order an inmate be placed in the program.

Drug law reform makes several significant changes to Shock:

1) Judicially ordered Shock and Alternative to Shock Programs. Sentencing judges are now authorized to order Shock placement for those defendants convicted of a controlled substance offense that requires a prison sentence.

2) Shock eligibility has been extended beyond reception. Current inmates can now become eligible for Shock if they meet the above-mentioned criteria.

3) 50 is the new 40. The age limit for Shock has been extended to 50 years old from 40 years old.

C) Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment, or CASAT (Correction Law Section 2(18)

CASAT is a three-phased substance abuse treatment program that includes prison-based substance abuse treatment, work-release with a community based treatment component, and parole with substance abuse aftercare. Generally, inmates are eligible for CASAT if eligible for temporary release, which means that an inmate must be within two years of his or her parole or conditional release date.

Additional resources provided by the author

For more information on New York's drug law reforms, visit the Raiser & Kenniff, P.C. website.

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