Sentencing reform advocates say, “It’s a good first step.”
For Immediate Release
August 1, 2010
BOSTON: Last night Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation that includes limited but promising reform of the state’s harsh mandatory drug sentencing laws.
Drug offenders who are serving mandatory minimum sentences at county Houses of Correction will have greater access to parole and at an earlier date. However, the bill that lawmakers voted on did not include two reforms previously endorsed by the Senate: allowing drug offenders in state prisons the same access to parole, and allowing all drug offenders to be eligible for work release programs. Under current state law, drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences are frequently barred from either parole eligibility or work release programs, even if such restrictions force them to leave prison without supervision or job skills.
Barbara J. Dougan, FAMM’s Massachusetts project director, issued the following statement:
“FAMM applauds the Legislature for recognizing that costly mandatory minimum sentencing laws actually stand in the way of public safety. We are grateful to Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, Sen. Steven Tolman and Rep. Christopher Speranzo, the members of the conference committee who crafted the crime bill. This law should provide a powerful incentive for county drug offenders to put their prison time to good use and prepare themselves for a successful return to their communities. While we wish the bill had contained additional reforms, especially for those state prisoners who are serving the harshest sentences, FAMM views the current legislation as an excellent first step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the Legislature to expand these reforms in the coming years.”
The bill will allow drug offenders in county Houses of Correction to be eligible for parole after they serve one-half of their sentence (the same as other county prisoners who are eligible for parole), unless one or more “aggravating factors” apply: they used violence or guns when committing the drug offense, they directed the drug activities of others, or they sold drugs to minors or used minors in drug transactions. The bill applies to those who are currently incarcerated, as well as to those sentenced in the future.
Massachusetts will join at least 15 other states that have rewritten their mandatory drug sentencing laws in recent years to better address public safety issues and to reduce skyrocketing prison costs.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. For more information, contact email@example.com.