The Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH) studied the impact of 2009 reforms to New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws that eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of a range of felony drug charges and expanded eligibility for diversion to treatment. Researchers compared cases pre and post reform to assess changes in the use of jail and prison, rates of diversion to treatment, racial disparities in sentencing, recidivism, and cost.

This work, conducted under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice, included researchers from Vera's Substance Use and Mental Health Program and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Rutgers University. The research team:

  • described sentencing outcomes by analyzing administrative data on felony drug cases indicted before and after the reforms, and conducted case file reviews and interviewed judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to explore the factors influencing charging and sentencing decisions; 
  • compared recidivism outcomes for individuals charged with felony drug crimes before and after the reforms; and
  • conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the reforms.

The results can be found in End of an Era? The Impact of Drug Law Reform in New York City.

Why This Research Matters

In light of the current fiscal crisis, there is a nationwide drive to reduce incarceration and corrections costs without jeopardizing public safety. Increasingly, states are considering new ways to respond to people convicted of drug offenses, a largely non-violent group that constitutes a sizeable minority of the incarcerated population. As policymakers grapple with sentencing options, there is a pressing need for empirical evidence to inform their decisions. SUMH contributed to this dialogue by documenting the impact of two different approaches to sentencing for drug offenses.

For more information, contact research director Jim Parsons


This project was supported by Award No. 2010-IJ-CX-0030 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this web page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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Elizabeth A. Brady
executive agency counsel, New York City Police Department

Bridget G. Brennan
New York City special narcotics prosecutor

Corinne A. Carey
senior public policy counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union

Reginald Fluellen
senior vice president of forensic health services, Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation

Robert Gangi
director, Correctional Association of New York

William Gibney
director, the Legal Aid Society Criminal Practice Special Litigation Unit

Daliah Heller
assistant commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, Care and Treatment

Martin F. Horn
distinguished lecturer, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York

Charles J. Hynes
district attorney, Kings County, New York

Leslie Kellam
chief of research and evaluation, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services

Michael P. Jacobson
president and director, Vera Institute of Justice

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
chief of policy and planning, Office of Court Administration of the New York State Unified Court System

Douglas Knight
director of alternative sentencing, Queens District Attorney’s Office

Glenn E. Martin
associate vice president of Policy and Advocacy, Fortune Society

Anita R. Marton
vice president, the Legal Action Center

James Quinn
senior executive assistant district attorney, Queens District Attorney’s Office

Teresa Salo
deputy commissioner, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Justice Research and Performance

Gabriel Sayegh
state director, New York, Drug Policy Alliance State

Robin Steinberg
executive director, Bronx Defenders

Anne J. Swern
first assistant district attorney, Kings County, New York  



New study of Rockefeller drug sentencing reform in New York State

New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services New York State Defenders Association