Contact: Rabiah Burks
FAMM: Reforms in New Massachusetts Criminal Justice Bill Going in the Right Direction
WASHINGTON – On March 23, Massachusetts House and Senate members of a conference committee released their agreed-upon version of S. 2371, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill. If passed, the bill would repeal some of the state’s mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug crimes, while also creating mandatory minimum sentences for some DUI offenses and crimes involving opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl. The bill also limits application of the state’s drug-free school zone sentencing law to violent and high-level drug offenders and creates a medical parole process for the release of terminally ill and permanently incapacitated offenders.
“This bill will mean that fewer low-level drug sellers and addicts fill up Massachusetts’ prisons, and that’s good for public safety,” said FAMM vice president of policy Molly Gill. “But the new mandatory minimum sentences for opioids are a disappointment. Mandatory minimums don’t stop drug addiction, abuse, or overdoses, and creating more of them won’t solve the state’s opioid problems.”
Massachusetts is one of a growing list of states to tackle the problem of how to release aging and ill prisoners who are expensive to incarcerate but pose little public safety threat. The bill’s medical parole process would allow a prisoner, his lawyers and next of kin, or prison wardens and sheriffs to petition for release if the prisoner is terminally ill or incapacitated. The bill includes a streamlined process for review of those petitions by the Department of Correction commissioner, who would make the final decision about release. The bill also gives a right of appeal to prisoners whose requests are denied and mandates stringent reporting requirements.
“With this legislation, Massachusetts is poised to take a big step toward improving compassionate release for prisoners with terminal or permanent debilitating conditions in the state,” said FAMM general counsel, Mary Price. “They are the most expensive to house and the least likely to reoffend. There is simply no public safety benefit from keeping such prisoners behind bars. Moreover, it is horrific for loved ones on the outside who have to watch a loved one deteriorate in a prison cell. This bill creates a tool for saving a prison bed for a more dangerous person, and reuniting a family when it matters most.”
FAMM has long advocated expanding federal and state compassionate release programs, which authorize early release for prisoners facing extreme circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. Recently, FAMM helped to establish the Campaign for Compassionate Release, a coalition of diverse organizations who support the creation, expansion, and robust use of compassionate release. FAMM and other members of the Campaign sent a letter earlier this year urging the legislature to adopt a broad medical parole provision.
FAMM is a nonpartisan, national advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice reforms to make our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM promotes change by raising the voices of families and individuals who are directly affected by counterproductive sentencing and prison policies.
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