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State’s anti-drug policy needs overhaul: Leffler

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Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, released a report last week saying the state's drug policy is flawed and called for a complete overhaul of the system so that drug offenders can be rehabilitated rather than jailed.

He issued the report, "Breaking the Cycle: Drug treatment not Incarceration," at a news conference Jan. 26 at the City Hall Rotunda.

Leffler's said he was looking at drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration because many of the people arrested and imprisoned are addicted to drugs. Police Commissioner Howard Safir has estimated that about 70 percent of the people arrested are drug abusers.

"In recent times it has been widely acknowledged that drug policy as used over the past three decades by the federal, state and municipal governments has by and large failed to meet its stated objectives of curtailing the use and distribution of drugs," Leffler said.

The report showed that existing drug policy failed to lower incarceration rates of people convicted of drug-related crimes, provide useful treatment or assistance to substance-abusers or reduce the burdens of the taxpayer, who bears the brunt of the cost.

The New York State Department of Correctional Services reported drug offenses rose during the years 1970-1997 from 470 to 9,804. The 1997 number represented 47.1 percent of the prison population while violent felons only accounted for 28 percent.

Leffler's report said the research done at the University of Delaware's Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies found treatment of drug-addicted prison inmates when coupled with a drug treatment program after their release reduces the probability of being rearrested by 57 percent. By comparison 54 percent of the untreated drug-addicted inmates were arrested 18 months after their release.

Leffler identified four approaches that need to be undertaken, to successfully improve drug treatment as it exists today:

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