- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s prisons hold one-third of the drug offenders they did before lawmakers began rolling back the stiff penalties imposed under Rockefeller-era drug laws, now sending more defendants to treatment programs, the state attorney general said Monday.

In a Law Day address, Eric Schneiderman said that’s among the reforms that have made society safer, helping cut the crime rate and reduce recidivism despite initial opposition and criticism.

“We have made our system fairer and our society safer,” he said. He credited the late New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye with expanding the state’s “problem-solving courts” that focus on mental health, drug treatment or veterans. Monday’s observance at the Court of Appeals was also a tribute to Kaye.

His office’s new role as investigator and prosecutor of police shootings of unarmed civilians is another reform Schneiderman said should be a national model. Other recent reforms included New York City police cutting back on stopping and frisking people and prosecutors and police departments adopting best practices for handling photo arrays and suspect lineups to help avoid false witness identifications, he said.

Inmate re-entry to society needs attention, Schneiderman said. “A year after their release 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are still unemployed. That’s a disgrace.”

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore cited the 50th anniversary of the Miranda ruling, the Supreme Court guarantee that people in custody can consult with a lawyer before talking to police, to have a lawyer present during police questioning and to have a court-appointed attorney if he or she can’t afford one.

“At the most basic level, the procedural protections of Miranda recognize that our system of justice cannot work as intended without lawyers to balance the scales of justice, particularly when the enormous power of the state is moved against a lone individual,” DiFiore said. She also credited Kaye with recognizing that importance in her rulings and administration of the state court system.

“Judith Kaye believed that lawyers, whether in criminal court or family court or of civil or commercial courts are indispensable to the pursuit of justice,” DiFiore said.

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