History of Legislation:
After leading successful fights to reduce the length of many state mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand parole eligibility for those serving mandatory minimums, and reduce the size of the state’s drug-free school zones, FAMM’s work in Massachusetts will now shift to a supporting role. Because further sentencing reforms are not expected in the immediate future, FAMM is closing down its state program office and suspending its lobbying activities. FAMM’s State Policy Director Greg Newburn will work directly with advocates in the state to continue to promote bold mandatory minimum reform.
Massachusetts continues to work toward criminal justice reform, such as with FAMM supported bill S.819 which would work to eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences. FAMM submitted testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary as they considered a repeal of mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. You can read that submission here. Here is just a sample of the submitted testimony’s passionate appeal to the committee:
“Consider that judges have wide discretion to sentence offenders convicted of possession with intent to distribute 17.9 grams of cocaine; that offense carries no mandatory minimum in Massachusetts. But for a conviction of possession with intent to distribute 18 grams of cocaine, judges’ hands are tied by mandatory minimums. We trust judges to handle drug distribution cases at 17.9 grams, but add 1/10th of a gram and current statutes assume they lose all competence to impose an appropriate sentence. This position is indefensible.
“…Massachusetts does a lot of things right. The Commonwealth has already made good progress in reforming mandatory minimums and restoring balance in criminal sentencing, and it has kept its incarceration rate comparatively low. However, there is always room for improvement, and Massachusetts should join the growing bipartisan consensus and reject mandatory minimums.”
FAMM helped key legislators draft a bill to repeal all drug mandatory minimums. However, it appears that no action will be taken this session while the Council for State Governments undertakes its review of Massachusetts’ criminal justice system.
Mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses were shortened, by up to one-third. For drug offenders who were already in prison, many became eligible for parole, work release and earned good time – either at an earlier date or for the first time ever. The size of drug-free school zones was also reduced from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, to better reflect the law’s intent to protect children.
State lawmakers eased harsh drug sentencing laws for the first time since they were enacted in the 1980s. Certain nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimums sentences at county prisons (called “houses of correction” in Massachusetts) became eligible for parole.
Massachusetts lawmakers created a system of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. These “one size fits all” sentences are usually based solely on the weight of the drugs in question, not what the person actually did or whether he or she is a danger to public safety.
Massachusetts Dept. of Corrections Expenses/Budget:
- State expenses = over $530 million
- Annual Average Cost per Inmate = $53,040.87
State Population: 6.745 million people
Prison Population: 9,994 people
Learn how a bill becomes law in Massachusetts (in Spanish).
You can do several things to work toward reforming your state’s sentencing laws – go to our get involved page to find out how.
May 31, 2017
Originally published 4/14/17 at Jamaica Plain Gazette Residents pressured local state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez to take action on criminal justice reform at a public meeting last month on Mission Hill. Sanchez held the meeting to inform residents in his district about the results of a community survey he recently completed, and to answer questions from… Read more »
May 31, 2017
Originally published 4/12/17 at The Berkshire Eagle Defendants who can’t afford to pay court fees or fines would be able to perform community service to cover their debt instead of serving jail time, under a bill Gov. Charlie Baker filed Tuesday. The legislation would address a practice known as “fine time,” in which defendants who… Read more »
February 28, 2017
Originally posted in WBUR. The state’s highest court says lawmakers should reconsider mandatory minimum sentences when it comes to certain drug offenses. In a ruling issued Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was considering the case of Imran Laltaprasad, who was arrested in Somerville in 2013 and later convicted on charges of possession with intent to… Read more »
February 28, 2017
Originally seen in Boston Globe. MARK TWAIN made famous the adage that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Over the years, piles of reform proposals on an array of issues have been decided by statistical analyses that could be colored dozens of different ways. But when statistics show that in… Read more »