Drug Law Reform
As a progressive and as a prosecutor, Kathleen knows the delicate balance that exists between keeping communities safe and promoting rehabilitation and jail-diversion for non-violent offenders. But Kathleen doesn’t believe that the decision has to be one or the other. Kathleen believes that while some drug offenders are certainly in need of incarceration, others are better served by rehabilitation programs and substance abuse services that will ultimately lead them out of recidivism and on to becoming law-abiding citizens. Kathleen knows that it is these transformations that will ultimately lead to sustained crime reduction and safer communities.
Kathleen also knows that New York’s drug laws have long suffered from a failure to understand this important and delicate balance. Too many non-violent drug offenders occupy our jail cells. Too few are getting treatment and too many non-violent young adults are becoming saddled with convictions rather than being re-directed to positive life paths.
Prosecutors are in a unique position to understand the balance and the correlation between public safety, human services and non-violent offender rehabilitation. Their positioning and expertise also make them ideal advocates and voices when it comes to reforming the laws that give rise to this complex criminal justice challenge.
Since taking office in 2006, Kathleen has used her position to push the incarceration and jail-diversion pendulum to a more thoughtful, effective place. Under her leadership, more non-violent defendants received a drug treatment alternative to prison than ever before. And Kathleen started a groundbreaking community-based initiative that paired social services with jail-diversion and law-enforcement oversight to help dozens of one neighborhood’s most chronic abusers – an effort eventually profiled on the ABC News program Primetime.
Kathleen has also been a major voice in how New York’s once-draconian drug laws were reformed. When the most recent reforms of the state’s infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws were being debated, it was Kathleen who made sure legislators understood the potential benefit of involving progressive prosecutors in the decision over which defendants get treatment and which get sent to jail. The reform process also gave Kathleen an opportunity to warn legislators that the treatment programs they sought to take advantage of were significantly underfunded and potentially incapable of handling what was expected to be an increase in diverted offenders. Kathleen, as both a progressive and a prosecutor, understood the human and long-term public safety costs of unnecessarily harsh drug laws, and she also understood the benefit of a progressive community advocate’s voice in these important courtroom decisions. Out of a concern that other district attorneys in New York may not share her belief in diversion or her focus on rehabilitation for non-violent offenders, Kathleen ultimately supported a statewide reform package that included more judicial discretion in the process. This real-world prosecutorial experience has put Kathleen in a unique position to continue to play a crucial role in improving our drug laws and addressing one of the most important criminal justice challenges of our lifetime.
In 2012, Kathleen continued her work to reform New York’s drug laws by becoming one of the first prosecutors to publicly support the decriminalization of “plain-view” marijuana possession. Kathleen believes the misdemeanor law serves little public safety purpose, and at the same time provides a detrimental introduction to the criminal justice system for many young, non-violent offenders. Kathleen would rather see police officers’ time spent building relationships with community members and fighting more corrosive and dangerous crime.