Including Strong Proposals to Enact Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform and Expand Access to and Coverage of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorder Care


January 16th, 2019: The Legal Action Center commends Governor Andrew Cuomo on the landmark criminal justice and opioid and other substance use disorder (SUD) initiatives included in his 2019 Justice Agenda. “The Governor has proposed an extraordinary number of critically important proposals to address an array of criminal justice and substance use issues facing the State,” said Paul Samuels, Director and President of LAC. “We applaud the depth and breadth of the Governor’s initiatives, which further enhance New York’s position as a national leader in promoting health and justice equity and as a model for the rest of the country.  The Governor’s initiatives contain important reforms to expand and protect insurance coverage and otherwise combat the opioid epidemic and other SUDs, to increase access to SUD services and medications in the health and criminal justice systems, and to assist formerly incarcerated individuals in successfully reentering their communities.” Tracie Gardner, Vice President of Policy Advocacy at LAC said, “We are delighted to see long fought for reforms that go to the heart of reducing mass incarceration and ensuring equitable access to opportunity and health care for all New Yorkers included in the Governor’s 2019 agenda. LAC looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to make sure these proposals are enacted and improve the health, safety and well-being of New Yorkers and their communities.”

Among the Governor’s State of the State initiatives the Legal Action Center supports are the following:

Criminal Justice and Reentry Reform

Gov. Cuomo’s 2019 Justice Agenda includes several reentry reforms long-advocated for by LAC and our colleagues in the field such as the Alternatives to Incarceration and Reentry Coalition and the Coalition for Reentry Advocates (CORA). Crucial proposed reforms include:

  • Reconfiguring the occupational license structure to remove blanket statutory bans;
  • Removing the six-month suspension of driver’s licenses for drug offenses unrelated to driving;
  • Preventing the sharing of mugshots that do not have a specific law enforcement need; and
  • Modernizing criminal history reporting to stop the use of past arrest information that did not result in a conviction for civil purposes such as employment, housing, and licensing.

Combating the Epidemic of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders

There were also numerous strong proposals to address the epidemic of opioid and other substance use disorders in New York, and to increase access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. These include:

  • Broad parity and insurance reforms supported by LAC and our partners in the Parity at 10 Coalition. These important proposed reforms to enforce federal and state laws requiring insurers to apply the same coverage rules to substance use and mental health services as those used for medical and surgical benefits will help combat opioid and other SUDs and mental disorders, and include:
    • Enhancing State monitoring and oversight of insurance plans and strengthening enforcement of parity and other insurance protections;
    • Prohibiting insurers from requiring prior authorization to receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for SUDs;
    • Ensuring the adequacy of insurance networks;
    • Limiting patient co-payments for outpatient addiction treatment to one per day and to the equivalent cost of a doctor’s office visit; and
    • Making permanent a Behavioral Health Ombudsman Program to help all New Yorkers access insurance coverage for SUD and mental health services.
  • Assisting people in recovery to obtain employment by creating a tax credit for employers who hire people in recovery from SUDs.
  • Promoting the use of Narcan to prevent fatal overdoses by protecting retail establishments that administer Narcan from liability.

The Governor also proposed several key reforms that address the disproportionate impact of substance use disorders among incarcerated individuals. Improving health care within jails and prisons, and strengthening the linkages to community care upon reentry are critically important strategies for both improving health outcomes and reducing recidivism. Key proposals in the Governor’s 2019 agenda include:

  • Seeking federal approval to provide Medicaid coverage to individuals in the criminal justice system during their last 30 days of incarceration for medical, pharmaceutical, and behavioral health care coordination services; and
  • Increasing the availability of SUD treatment services and medications inside jails and prisons.

We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature in implementing these important reforms to help countless New Yorkers and our communities.


Established in 1973, the Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.




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