FAMM opened its Massachusetts office in 2008 to change the state’s harsh drug sentencing laws. We had victories in 2010 and 2012, described below, which reformed mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
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.
Most recent reforms: August 2, 2012, a new sentencing law took effect that reduces the length of some drug mandatory minimum sentences, increases the quantity of drugs needed to trigger certain low level trafficking offenses, reforms the state’s school zone law, and makes some drug offenders now in prison eligible for the same reentry opportunities – parole, work release and earned good time – that are available to most other prisoners. In 2010, Massachusetts eased restrictions on drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences at county Houses of Correction. They are now eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences, unless the drug offense involved violence, a weapon or children, or if the drug offender “directed the activities of another” during the offense.
Massachusetts’ legislative session: The Massachusetts Legislature (officially called the “General Court”) meets to work on bills for two-year sessions. The 2015-2016 session of the Legislature started in January 2015 and will end on July 31, 2016. (The Legislature continues to meet up to Thanksgiving 2016, but cannot pass any bills unless all 200 members are in agreement – which rarely happens.) The “Bills to change Massachusetts law” section, below, is accurate until July 31, 2016. After that time, the bills will be dead. New bills will need to be filed for the 2017 – 2018 session of the Legislature.
2013 – 2014 session: holding steady. Last session, our bills did not result in any new changes to the law. But with the help of our dedicated members, we continued to educate legislators about the need for change and strengthened ties with key leaders and allies. We issued our first-ever candidates’ report prior to the 2014 elections. And we helped expand the scope of the 2012 reforms with our “friend of the court” briefs.
2011 – 2012 session: major progress. In 2012, 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. Read FAMM’s summary of the 2012 sentencing reforms and the passed law.
2009 – 2010 session: the first reforms. In 2010, 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. Read FAMM’s summary of the 2010 sentencing reforms and the passed law.
In the early 1980’s, Massachusetts lawmakers created a system of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. These laws were created even though there was no evidence that they would deter drug crimes or reduce drug addiction – assuming those were the well-intentioned goals. Nevertheless, judges must impose prison sentences of a fixed number of years, even if the sentence does not fit the crime. 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. Addicts, low level offenders and kingpins are all treated the same – everyone goes to prison.
We now know, over 30 years after mandatory minimum were enacted, that they don’t work. Drug crimes hold steady. For every drug offender who goes to prison, another one takes his place. Drug addiction hasn’t been reduced, either. Although cocaine has long been the drug of choice in Massachusetts, in recent years the state has experienced a public health crisis with opiate addiction and overdoses. Yet taxpayers shell out $46,000 a year for every drug offender held in state prison, even though the spiraling costs of our drug sentencing laws aren’t buying us healthier or safer communities.
While many people were helped by the reforms so far, our system of mandatory minimum sentencing laws remains intact. Judges must be allowed to impose sentences that fit the crime while still protecting public safety. That will require the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing laws altogether. In addition, drug offenders who are sentenced to the new, shorter mandatory minimums will still be barred from parole and earned good time – which fails to prepare them for a return to the community. That must be fixed as well.
Last Wednesday, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the bill to get rid of most automatic driver’s license suspensions for Massachusetts drug offenders. This will help thousands of drug offenders each year, although some of our incarcerated members will not benefit. The good news. The new law gets rid of automatic suspensions for the great… Read more »
41 Massachusetts organizations join call for fairness MEDIA CONTACT:Benjamin Keehn, Committee for Public Counsel Services, 617-910-5727Paul Rudof, Committee for Public Counsel Services, 413-584-2701 Daniel Marx, Foley Hoag LLP, 617-832-1202 BOSTON – Forty-one Massachusetts organizations have filed an “amicus” (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Judicial Court, in the case of Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad, which will… Read more »
(Boston Globe) — It’s a throwback to the war-on-drugs era: a state law that suspends the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug-related offense for up to five years after their release from prison, sending them back into society without the benefit of using their own motor vehicle. It’s effectively an additional punishment beyond the… Read more »
There are changes in store for FAMM’s Massachusetts project and I want you to hear about them from me. As I explained in a previous email, FAMM doesn’t expect the mandatory minimum bills in the Massachusetts legislature to move forward until the justice reinvestment process has been completed – after the current session of the… Read more »