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FAMM Applauds Gov. Patrick for Recommending Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses January 27, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

On Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a ground-breaking criminal justice reform package that includes the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.  The Governor’s bill would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to become eligible for parole, work release and earned “good conduct” credits, as are most other prisoners.  Gov. Patrick’s bill reflects the national trend toward evidence-based drug sentencing policies that better protect public safety while costing taxpayers less.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) applauds Gov. Patrick’s leadership on sentencing reform.  Barbara J. Dougan, director of FAMM’s Massachusetts project, issued the following statement in response to today’s bill:

“This is a bold move by the Governor, but at the same time, it’s just basic common sense.   The Governor’s bill would simply re-align our current drug sentencing policies so that they are in sync with what we know about who is being sentenced to mandatory prison terms and what those people need to stay out of trouble when they leave prison.   Nearly two-thirds of those  sentenced to mandatory prison terms fall into the two lowest level ”criminal history” groups – no prior record or few lower level offenses.   Yet too often they serve disproportionately harsh sentences, sometimes longer than those who commit violent crimes.  As a result, the public pays for lengthier sentences than are warranted.”

“Additionally,” Dougan explained, “drug offenders often serve their sentences under more restrictive conditions than other prisoners, conditions that actually increase recidivism and undermine public safety.  The Governor is to be commended for proposing policies that will actually do some good – for public safety and taxpayers – rather than just sounding good.”

Governor Patrick’s proposal would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that don’t involve guns or children, allow certain nonviolent drug offenders serving mandatory minimums in state prison to be eligible for parole after serving half their maximum sentence and allow drug offenders to be eligible for work release and earned “good conduct” credits.  “Drug offenders with legitimate work skills are more likely to earn an honest living upon release from prison,” said Dougan.  “There has never been a sound policy reason for forcing them to remain idle during their time behind bars.”

The bill would also reduce drug-free “school zones” from 1,000 feet of a school to 100 feet, the same as for parks and playgrounds.  As a result, the school zone law, which currently carries a two to 15 years sentence, will fulfill its original intent to protect children.  As it is current written and enforced, it serves mainly to add a second penalty for those who lives in urban areas.

In addition to Gov. Patrick’s proposal, other sentencing reform bills were recently filed.  Last week, Sen. Steven Tolman and Rep. Benjamin Swan filed bills to repeal mandatory minimums for drug offenses and to reform the school zone law, bills drafted by FAMM.   Sen. Cynthia Creem, a long-time proponent of drug sentencing reform, also filed bills.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to insure that the punishment fits the crime.  In 2008, FAMM launched a project in Massachusetts to reform state mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug and school zone offenses.

To read profiles on people serving mandatory minimum sentences in Massachusetts, or for more information on FAMM, click here.

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